The Movie Theater Active Shooter Equation

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Active Shooters in Movie Theaters

As we tune in to the news on just about any given week, we see more and more copycat “active” shooters in movie theaters in the United States.  This unfortunately is the new norm.   Because this is the new norm, our tactics are going to have to shift to combat these cowardly acts of seemingly random murder.

In examining the events of past theater shootings, the only constant variable is they occur in the darkness of a movie theater, aside from the constant that the shooter is mentally ill..  The scenarios have presented different targets, different responses by victims, and different guns involved used by the shooters.  The shooters have sat in different parts of the the theater, struck at different times in the movies.  Based upon that, our tactics must be fluid.

The first decision we must make is about the sign on the door of the theater.  The one that says “NO WEAPONS PERMITTED”.  The easy answer here is just not to go to the movies.  A $10 cup of ice with a little Coke splashed on it is seemingly reason enough.  However, the conversation can easily apply to someplace you do like to go.  What weight does that little “NO WEAPONS PERMITTED” carry?  Does it carry the weight of your local laws?  In Kentucky, if you are discovered, you can be asked to leave.  If you refuse, you can be arrested for disorderly conduct.  For the sake of this conversation, concealed means concealed.  If it is a state level suggestion, it is a moral decision of “Their House, Their Rules” and will you honor it.  This is a decision that I can not make for you, and that you will be responsible for the consequences either way.  If you do decide not to carry, either by the weight of state law, or by conscious, there is a consequence.  Just as there is one if you decide to carry.  You must choose.

The next thing is an obvious one.  What about the gear?  Your selection of your CCW pistol comes into play.  Some people believe that a J frame in the pocket is far better than a HK45 in the car.  I agree that is another personal decision and discussion for another time.  Do you have a reload for your CCW pistol?  Does it have a light attached?  Do you have a handheld light to have independent to the pistol mounted light if you have one?  One is none and the like.  I do not carry a light mounted on my off duty pistol.  I do carry a  light and a spare magazine.  My off duty pistol has night sights.  Those are the tools I bring to the table.  The rest is up to tactics.

Your placement in the theater will drive your tactics.  The top row with your back up against the wall, near steps seems to be the ideal spot.  This is not always feasible, nor is it always desired.  So, a compromise will have to be made.  Good situational awareness will go a long way at this point.  Before the movie, while everyone else is eating popcorn and texting, study the people around you.  An experienced street cop will tell you that this ten to fifteen minute window could make all the difference in the world.  People that stand out the most will be those who are by themselves.  They will really stand out most likely if they do not have their face buried in a smart phone.  If you spend enough time watching people, you’ll see what it is I am talking about.  We have become a nation that is self absorbed by technology.  This technology is hurting our situational awareness, but it is also fast becoming a sure way  to see who is not paying attention to their surroundings.

When the shooting starts, it will be pure pandemonium.  People will run everywhere screaming..  It will be loud. There will be blood.  That is this reason why as you read this article, you should decide your priorities, and manage your expectations.  Some people believe that intervention is not their bag.  Their priority is to get their family to safety, and engage if necessary.  And I am good with that.  A man has got to know his limitations so to speak.  If intervening is in your playbook, have a plan.  Play the “what if” game.  The time when the shooting starts is not the time to figure this out.  HAVE A PLAN.  Be realistic in your plans and expectations.  Even way back in grade school, we practiced fire drills, tornado drills, and the like.  As we got older, most of us forgot the reasons why we did this.  The reasons were basic and still hold merit today.

Most likely, the idea that you may have to engage a threat across the theater is probably going to be false.  I say probably because at this current moment my crystal ball is on the fritz.  I’m the guy that constantly preaches about being prepared mentally and physically to shoot distance on demand.  But the factors are against you in a crowded, panicked theater to engage at any kind of distance.  Too great a chance of hitting something you don’t mean to.  Likely, if you choose to engage, it will be in close quarters and you will have to close the gap.  It will also likely pay a dividend to shoot at a downward angle, if at all possible.

Next, you have to take into account the police are coming.  Have a plan to deal with the police after the fact.  Standing around an urban area after there has been shots fired with a gun in your hand is not a sound plan.  They don’t know you, and you don’t know them.

I say all of that to say this.  Have a plan.  Manage your expectations.  Know your limitations.  I expect that the active shooter problem will persist, if not worsen.  We can’t take the fight to them if we don’t understand the fight and plan for it.

This entry was posted in Fitness, Gear, Legal, Modern Service Pistols, Training by Jerry Jones. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jerry Jones

Jerry Jones has been a Sheriff's Deputy in Kentucky since 1996. Jerry is currently assigned as a patrol deputy, firearms instructor and senior operator/training supervisor with a multi jurisdictional tactical team. Jerry is Kentucky POST certified to teach firearms, SWAT, and sniper operations and deployment at the Academy level. Jerry is also the President/CEO of Operation Specific Training and the Law Enforcement Representative for Apex Tactical Specialties.

4 thoughts on “The Movie Theater Active Shooter Equation

  1. I think about this every time I go to the movies now. Thanks for the article. Lots to think about and plan for.

  2. The wife and I went to a matinee and got seated. Next couple, much younger, came in and the young man seemed squared away, just out of the academy squared away. They got seated and shortly after he looked around (scanned) sat up and took off his jacket. I caught a brief glimpse of his OWB holstered glock before he quickly covered it up and sat back down. Best movie ever, I felt very comfortable knowing there were two sheep dogs in the audience. I’ve talked to my guys about this and carrying in the theater is a given.

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