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How to Survive a Mass Shooting

With the terror of the Orlando shooting, people all over the country are reevaluating survival tactics for mass shootings. The general consensus is that the decisions you make in that first few minutes will largely determine whether you live or die. It is easy to mourn the dead and tell yourself that victims were trapped and had no choices. While your choices are limited, you do still have them.

In this article I want to dispel some myths about survival. As an advocate of the 2nd amendment, it is easy to say that fewer people would have died if more of them were armed. That is not always the case. Even with a gun, fighting back should be a last resort. The order of actions for any mass shooting should be to flee, gain security, and fight back if absolutely needed.

Flee

First I must emphasize that the vast majority of those that survive a shooting do so because they run at the first sign of danger. They do not run from hiding spot to hiding spot or wait to evaluate their path of exit… they just run. There are, however, tactics to follow to avoid making your situation worse. First and foremost, you must remain calm. Letting your emotions control your actions is never a good idea.

Any time you enter a building that might be targeted, make sure you note where all exits are located. Think about exits that may not be obvious. For example, in a shopping mall there are exits at the rear of most stores typically used for bringing in shipments of merchandise. I suggest heading towards the closest exit that would not be considered a main entrance. Primary entrances create a bottleneck and make for an easy target for shooters.

The Rhode Island fire tragedy in 2003 was a great example of this theory. Roughly a quarter of all the deaths in that fire occurred right at the primary entrance. The fire created a stampede as everybody ran for exactly the same spot. This clogged the flow of people and most did not turn back until it was too late. You must act quickly at the first point of danger, but do not be careless with your actions.

Make sure you stay out of sight and run away from the sound of gunfire. Statistics show that 98% of mass shootings are perpetrated by one person. That means you do not have to worry about any surprises if you run away from the sound of shots. This also means there is no point in running in a serpentine fashion or staying low as you run. These tactics are only important in a sniper situation where the location of the gunman is unknown.

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Remember that it takes three minutes on average for police to arrive, and a great number of deaths take place in those first three minutes. Quickly finding an exit is by far your best bet. Never try to bring any belongings with you as it would only slow you down. Do not rule out windows that must be broken or are on the second floor. Once you are outside you are largely safe, so cuts from glass or a broken leg are a small price to pay for freedom.

If you are forced to run through an area where the gunman can see you, use additional caution. Try to run from cover area to cover area so you expose yourself as little as possible. If there are other people with you, try to run in a group. This makes it more difficult for the shooter to pick out any particular person to target. Find the closest exit, but try to put as much distance as you can between the shooter and yourself. The further the shot, the tougher it is to be accurate.

Security

If running is absolutely not an option, then securing a location is your next best bet. I want to be clear that concealment alone is not security. Hiding is better than nothing, but you really need to separate yourself from the shooter and find cover. Cover is defined as an obstacle that can stop a bullet. Brick walls or steel beams are your best options, but heavy furniture can be used if needed.

A locked or barricaded door is by far your best level of separation. Shooters typically take the path of least resistance, so they will not blast their way through a locked door unless they have a reason. There are zero documented cases of a gunman going through a locked door to shoot more victims. If you are in a room that has a door without a lock, you can tie something around the door butler to secure it. This is the hinged arm at the top of the door that bends as the door is opened.

The most important aspect of securing your location is to give yourself the option of running if it arises. You never know when your situation will change, so do not box yourself in. For this reason, bathrooms are a horrible idea. In most cases you have no windows or doors and only one entrance. Many people make this mistake and pay with their lives.

When securing your location, grab a weapon if one is handy. You never want to go out of your way to find a weapon, but in many cases there will be something close by. Shut off the lights if possible and turn off any electronics. Remember that most shootings are over in 10 to 15 minutes, so you only have to stay in your secure location for a short while. You can cut down the response time by calling 911 as quickly as possible. On average it takes five minutes before somebody makes the call, so do not assume somebody else will do it. Call on a landline so they can trace the call. You can also set off the fire alarm or sprinklers if you cannot get to a phone.

Fight Back

Fighting back is an option, but it should always be a last resort. By attacking you have now made yourself the primary target for the shooter. You are also typically going to be outgunned even if you have a firearm with you. If you are going to attack, get close to the shooter before making your move. Distance will always be your enemy, so get in their face and secure their weapon. When you grab their gun, try to place your hand over the ejection port so that gun jams after the first round is fired.

Strength in numbers is your best strategy when you decide to fight back. As a general rule, you need at least two other people to slightly tip the odds in your favor. In any group, you can expect at least one person to freeze up when you need them to act. If you have two other people, you know that at least one will probably do their job. Assign one person to control the gunman’s head, one to control his weapon, and one to control his body.

Using your own conceal and carry weapon may seem like your best option, but consider the consequences. When the police arrive, they will go after anybody firing a weapon. They have no idea who the shooter is, so it is easy for them to assume it is you. The same can be true of other victims with weapons. If they see you shooting, they may fire back assuming you are the bad guy.

There are two things you should never do in a shooting. One is to try and reason with the shooter. In every case the shooter has come there with the intention of killing multiple victims. The odds of talking them down are poor at best and you put a target on your back by engaging with the shooter. The other is to play dead. In many shootings the gunman will pump additional bullets into bodies to make sure they are dead. It is too risky to lay in the open and hope that the shooter passes you by.

When the police arrive, it is not the time to get sloppy. Stay down and keep your hands where they can be seen. Never run towards the police or make any sudden movements. Remember that the police still have to determine which people are threats and which are not. They may even handcuff you and detain you until they have eliminated the threat. Continue to stay calm and follow their directions closely. The end is in sight, so do not do anything stupid.

Your natural instinct in a mass shooting will often be to make the wrong moves. The only way to avoid this is to stay calm and think through the correct actions to take. It is easy to become a cowboy or to panic, but do not let pride or fear control you. Like any survival situation, logic and common sense will tell you what to do if you let them. Use your head and you will likely come out of it just fine.

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About Ryan Dotson

My name is Ryan Dotson and I am a survivalist, prepper, writer, and photographer. I grew up in the Ozark Mountains and in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. My interest in survival started when I was in Boy Scouts and continued as my father, uncle, and grandfather taught me to hunt and fish. In the last few years I have started taking on survival challenges and have started writing about my experiences. I currently live in Mid-Missouri with my wife Lauren and three year old son Andrew.

7 comments

  1. This is one of those “DUH!!” articles….

  2. Thank you for the advice. I’m keeping this handy to refresh as needed.

  3. As a Chicago Policeman in one of the toughest districts, then a Special Agent and Private Detective for over 50 years , having worked for the City of Chicago, State of Illinois and Federal Court System and Cook County Defense of Indigents System, in the most dangerous areas of this area, I at age 80 am still alive and working. I am still learning just about every day, something that helps either my effectiveness or security for me or others. That is why I am interested in your booklet “The Martial Law Vigilante” I by the way when first sworn in as a Chicago Police Officer in July of 1957 still believe in and live by the part where you vow to defend our country from our enemies from both the outside and the enemies from within. I assume you do as well. Regards, Joseph P. Mahr

    • Sir,
      Thank you for your constant service, patriotism, dedication. The very best wishes for your continued safety as you try to make it safer for all of us. V/R, S.C. Harrison

  4. Hi Ryan , Everything you say (((( NOT TO DO ))) is very helpful but everything not to do is built in we humans,still thanks for your concerns someone will survive that has recorded what you have written Dam!!! bugger !!! sopmething else to fight to stay alive an 80 year old in Australia

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