SOLO INTERVENTION OF THE LONE “ACTIVE KILLER” : FANTASY OR REALITY? [PART ONE]

This post started out in draft (many months ago) as a review of the Panteao Productions video by Paul Howe, “Civilian Response To Active Shooters.”  (Click on the image to read some of Paul Howe’s background).

        I was a bit uncomfortable some might think I had strayed from my lane as I have no military combat experience, and neither my training nor my life or death experiences resemble Paul Howe’s.  Thus, I changed this post to pose and (hopefully) answer the title question. I think a better term to describe the dynamic incidents addressed is “active killer,” so I use that term instead of the universally used term “active shooter.”

I know Paul Howe only by reputation, his videos, and the material he and others have posted on the internet about his classes and training facility, CSAT.  If I had a training “bucket list,”  a week or two at CSAT would be on it.  Real operators I know respect him, his abilities, and doctrine.  Paul’s video provides basic insight into civilian mindset, gear, and tactics appropriate to intervene in an active killer incident.  Obviously, a safer intervention tactic would be simply to have Paul Howe with you and let him do the heavy lifting.  You would stay out of the fight, help with the evacuation of innocents, and provide direction to sworn first responders (most importantly, describing the armed and qualified civilian responder who already entered and was in response mode).  Unless you are Mrs. Paul Howe, that’s fantasy.

So, what’s reality? The most likely situation is that you are a trapped target in or stumble into one of the typical active killer venues (school, movie theater, hospital, workplace, place of worship, shopping mall, or stalled vehicular traffic).  Another possibility is, as the post question poses, you purposely interject yourself because a loved one is at risk, you are an off duty responding LEO or someone on scene asked to help one, or just because you decide it is your day to save complete strangers.  (There is a new interactive smart phone app which notifies nearby on and off duty LEOs if there is a school shooting underway: http://hero911.org/).

Paul’s steely demeanor confirmed my existing inclination that a dedicated and properly equipped civilian or off duty LEO could safely intervene and deactivate an active killer.   It has been done.  More than twice.  I suspect MSW readers have most of the gear, shooting skills, and physical/tactical ability to do it.  (Several hours of Howe videos will easily ice your veins and provide any needed mindset tweaking).  Paul’s video motivated me to take a fresh look at some materials I had compiled about active killer interventions, including:

From my own study of the subject, I had previously identified the two important goals of the solo intervention process upon which mindset, equipment/kit, and tactics should be focused:

(1) interrupting (stopping the killing as soon as possible so LEO and medical responders can get involved quicker), containing (trapping the killer), and deactivating (rendering the active killer unable to continue), and;

(2) communicating and identifying yourself as a Good Samaritan responder (so you can better assess what is happening, and so victims, witnesses, and responding LEOs do not mistake you for the active killer).

In part two of this post, I will offer highlights of what I gleaned from the study materials and my thoughts on what equipment/kit and tactics might help the solo intervenor accomplish the noble mission.

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About Steven Harris

Steve Harris is an experienced attorney (member of Florida Bar, 1979) who has represented federal agents and local LEOs in duty related matters. He has written and lectured about officer involved shootings, self-defense, and use of force law, including "Stand Your Ground." Steve has been a seasoned and active competitive handgun shooter for over 20 years.

16 thoughts on “SOLO INTERVENTION OF THE LONE “ACTIVE KILLER” : FANTASY OR REALITY? [PART ONE]

  1. Steven, another excellent article (Part 1)!

    I have not viewed Paul’s video; budget restraints.

    I pen these thoughts in a “what if” mindset. Not a post eval or AAR context for any historical event, except as otherwise noted below.

    Further, I key my thoughts on your sentence and in particular, the final phrase. “Another possibility is, as the post question poses, you purposely interject yourself because a loved one is at risk, you are an off duty responding LEO or someone on scene asked to help one, or just because you decide it is your day to save complete strangers.”

    I contend direct action in an active shooter scene as an “unknown” element is very risky at best for many different reasons.

    While DoD may not label and call movement to neutralize a hostile/threat as such, small team and individual tactics to neutralize the threat is taught at many levels throughout the branches. The threat, regardless of venue, must be neutralized quickly and as efficiently as possible.

    In the civilian sector, the real question is by whom? Unknown “friendlies” involving themselves in the scene was an often discussed element during the development and implementation of ALERRT, active shooter courses through the VALOR FOR BLUE initiative.

    Adding an “unknown” into the mix; an off-duty LEO, private security contractor, or a civilian adds to a uniformed first responders stress (not implying bad, just heightened stress). .

    In the May 7, 2013 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Special Agent Schwelt, JD, authored the article “Addressing the Problem of the Active Shooter”. While an excellent synopsis, the statistics presented were most insightful. To state a few…
    57% of the events are ongoing when police arrive on scene.
    Officers are most likely to arrive on scene solo or with a partner.
    33% of those LEOs arriving solo were shot!
    (statistical sources footnoted in the Schwelt article)

    If 33% of solo responding LEOs are shot, just how comfortable do you think a uniformed officer is going to be with an “unknown” holding a firearm? A LEOs stress level will be extremely high and further elevated once he has “eyes on” a unidentified civilian possessing a firearm.

    Recall the 2007 Salt Lake City (UT) Trolley Square Mall shooting. Off duty (civilian attired) Ogdon Officer Ken Hammond responded. Officer Hammond was honored and credited with saving many lives. Yet, Officer Hammond’s greatest fear was not the active shooter, but rather, the threat posed to him by responding uniformed law enforcement personnel. Officer Hammond recounted his inability to gain access to and display his credentials because his wallet was in the hip pocket of his jeans. Due to his posture behind cover he couldn’t gain access to his wallet. Yet, he managed to convey “the look” to the responding uniform that he was a “good” guy.

    Thus, my concern for a non-credentialed civilian taking direct action in an active shooter scene. How do you convey your “friendly” intentions and gain the trust of responding uniformed law enforcement? I am not sure verbalizing your intent will be adequate. Perhaps, how events unfold and your participation will dictate if you are a trusted participant. Yet, I would caution against the trust element just happening as in Officer Hammond’s case.

    Finally, some states have language in their conceal carry laws prohibiting an armed citizen (non-credentialed/without LEOSA protection) from moving FORWARD (emphasized) or responding in an offensive manner to neutralize a threat. Discussion within many legislatures centered exactly on direct action by civilians and implemented law in an attempt to preclude such behavior. Language generally stipulates a “duty to retreat” or “stand your ground” in addition to other criteria in an effort to preclude the very behavior many readers LIKELY favor.

    Nearly 4 decades ago, a Commanding Officer once told me, “…it is a very fine line between a goat and a hero…!” How an event culminates along with post investigative analysis will ultimately determine if your actions were justified and to what degree if any, you will be held accountable or honored.

    Eagerly awaiting PART 2!

    • Billy – as usual you make good points! I had already written part two when I read your comment on part one. I don’t think you will find part two lacking. If I am right on that, let me know. My tactics and kit suggestions are mostly original thoughts, not ideas I read elsewhere and adopted.

      I anticipated you would be the one to comment and mention as you did in your second to last paragraph. The second part dismisses the MAY but not discussing it. A prosecutor who goes after a Good Samaritan intervenor of an active killer event who saves only one life, will be on the first stagecoach out of town as she watches the parade for Billy go by.

      • Agreed! The community should run an over zealous prosecutor out of town on a rail! (And that is not a train rail!)

        Some cases deserve jury instructions about the element jury nullification! Now that would upset the scales of justice in the eyes of my judicial participants!

        Unfortunately, a non-credentialed civilian participating with good intentions into a active shooter scene that goes terribly wrong is likely facing serious legal consequences. If events spiral dreadfully out of control with chilling results after one’s direct involvement, post event analysis may not be so rosy. And, sadly the outcome, will determine the label goat or hero, not one’s good and meaningful intent. Likewise, if one’s direct involvement saves the day or mitigates loss of life, no doubt and rightfully so, declared a hero!

    • Not wishing to steal Steven Harris’ thunder or step on his upcoming post, but a while back I read a study on off-duty/plainclothes “blue-on-blue” shootings, that may have been done by forcescience.org, that showed non-uniformed officers who displayed badge/credentials on a neck lanyard were significantly less likely to be shot by other responding officers. The conclusion was that since the responding officers are already focusing on the chest, and a gun extended at arm’s length in front of the chest, it’s simply more likely that they will see and recognize the badge/creds when hanging in the same area on a neck lanyard than when they are displayed at belt level.

      Accordingly, I began carrying my own ID and CCW permit in a clear ID card holder on a breakaway neck chain, so that I can readily yank it out and hang it in front of my chest, over my back, or hold it above my head as needed for the benefit of responding officers. If nothing else, it keeps the critically important stuff out of my hip-pocket wallet, and allows me to produce my driver’s license without having to make movements that could be mis-construed as furtive or threatening.

      • There was an earlier study, done maybe 10 years ago, that showed badge on neck chain was bad compared to holding badge in hand.

        Put a badge on a neck chain and bring your arms up into a two handed firing position. Look from front and sides.

        Now try it with it in your hand.

        Now try turning it around to the rear while in your hand. Could you essentially turn your badge into a beacon for first responders?

        • True enough – I seem to recall that at least one major Federal or local agency was, at one point, teaching plainclothes/off-duty officers to hold their credentials opened in one hand above their head, while rotating the hand back and forth around the long axis of their forearm, to identify themselves to responding officers. I almost want to say it was taught by Jim Cirillo to either Customs or FLETC…

          That being said, obviously you will be sacrificing a two-handed hold on your pistol in order to hold your creds in one hand – and I would argue that if a situation or a suspect is still sufficiently threatening that your pistol must remain in your hands rather than returning to your holster, you might not want to sacrifice that solid two-handed grasp for more than a second or two, should you wind up needing to commence/resume fighting while one hand is encumbered with your credentials. Of course, a high degree of skill and confidence in one-handed shooting will always be helpful.

          Furthermore, holding your creds in one hand leads to the possibility that your creds might at some point get dropped on the ground – either accidentally, or on purpose as you commence/resume fighting – which would only exacerbate the problem of identifying yourself to responding officers. I still think a neck lanyard/chain helps to keep your creds from getting lost, while not detracting from your ability to display them in your raised hand if you wish – and one can certainly adjust the length of their lanyard/chain so that the creds remain somewhat visible below the extended arms…

    • While I recognize the danger of being shot by responding officers, moving into an active killer scenario with the intent to interdict the killer is necessarily unsafe. You only do it because you value to the safety of the other innocents in danger more than you value your own. If the catastrophe is so great you are willing to risk being shot by the bad guy, why would you choose otherwise because you risk being shot by a good guy?

      • Well said. I suppose it depends on the relative odds of the two ways you might be shot. See part two.

        Behaviorists have noted that some will undertake extraordinarily risky behavior to save complete strangers. To me, one of the highest callings of man. Google Arland Williams and Lenny Skutnick re Air Florida Flight 90, January 1982.

        • Exactly!

          Military history in particular, holds the accounts of many brave men and women who move towards danger/threats without any forethought as outcome or PERSONAL consequences. TheY act merely because someone is in need of help or because something must be done NOW.

  2. I have been an advocate for solo response, as the situation dictates, for many years. My experience stems from having actually done this on one occasion.

    I’ll leave this right here;
    http://www.thetacticalwire.com/feature.html?featureID=3593

    If one is caught up in an active-shooter attack, and they manage to take the shooter out, then they are also going to need the situational awarness and mental calmness to deal with the first cops on scene. Just like the shooter problem, how one handles the second problem will determine if they live through the event.

    To say that one shouldn’t take action because things will be confusing and dangerous disaplays an attitude that is out of touch with reality IMHO. Find me an active-shooter attack that isn’t dangerous and confusing.

    • Hat tip to Haggard. Right five years ago and nothing has changed. Hope you like part two!

  3. Of interest, is Mac’s discussion of this very event over at Mac’s digital posting home, SOLDIERS SYSTEMS.

    Very timely Mac! 😉

    And I agree with everything Mac posted! I’d be kitted up and running into the fray like a “scalded ape” as well if my loved ones were in harms way! I have the 5.11 5 point breakaway HI VIS vest in my G&G bag. Super easy to get the thing off without removing kit or grip on weapon if the HI VIS element creates an unwelcome bullet trap in your immediate vicinity.

    And I agree with Chuck, if you find yourself “caught up” in such an event, you’d better be at least, minimally (EDC) kitted up to respond to protect your own life and loved ones!

    And there are a few of many justifiable elements (caveats) arguably favoring one’s intervention into the crisis!

  4. Sheesh! Can’t everyone just wait for part two? I got them all covered.

  5. For those old enough to remember…” Smiles everyone, smiles! Welcome to Fantasy Island!” If you want to take on active shooters, become a cop. If you want to get rich training, please train armed citizens to do something other than taking on socio/psychopaths with firearms, in public places. This new area of “training” has REALLY got me amazed: Unless you are actively “on the job” as a L.E.O., with active shooter training, PLEASE refrain from getting in the fight unless you are already looking down the barrel of a gun.

    • Why I keep saying you had better have a darn good and justifiable reason to do anything other than do what is permitted by law to civilians…self defense, protecting loved ones, retreat, stand your ground; whatever pertains to your locale.

      I do not see a civilian kitting up, moving forward and simply entering a crisis as a justifiable response when examined in any legal context. But, tomorrow’s or next week’s events could reshape legal thinking.

      Finally, I was not aware of civilian training addressing an active shooter per se.

      • I feel fairly comfortable guessing that either by statute or common law in all 50 states, a civilian can affirmatively intervene and use deadly force to stop a mass murderer of innocents. In some states, if they are asked by an LEO to assist, they are treated under the law as an LEO for some important purposes. There is no need to have a “reason.” There are also state laws that allow civilians to make an arrest and use whatever force is necessary to apprehend and detain the arrested — not materially different than an on duty LEO.

        If any of the kit I suggest in part two is not legal in your locale, do not own it. I assumed all weapons an intervenor possesses/employs are legally owned. I suppose someone entering a school with a gun to save students could be charged with a variety of offenses. However, there is a complete legal defense (“necessity”) applicable which should prevail. If someone righteously decides the SHOULD and the MUST tests are passed, the MAY will just have to take a back seat.

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