At the end of part one, I suggested a solo intervenor’s mission is driven by two goals: (1) Interrupting, containing, and deactivating the active killer, and; (2) communicating and identifying oneself as the “good guy” so victims, witnesses, and responding LEOs do not mistake an intervenor (you) for the active killer.  I didn’t suggest which of the two was more important.   That depends on the intervenor’s own analysis of the SHOULD and MUST.  I also purposely failed to mention something obvious: Time spent on the second goal delays implementation of the first, thereby diminishing the chance of an earlier, more lives saved intervention.

Let’s see what an active killer scenario might look like.  If you believe occurrence statistics are predictive of future events, consider the following ballpark for your lone active killer event (/ = out of) :  It will be 3 -10 minutes after the first shot was fired before the first on duty LEO arrives, with a 1/2 chance shooting is still occurring, but that LEO will have less then 1/4 chance of actually interrupting the active killer; the active killer will be an armed male, 3/5 chance he is armed with a pistol, 1/10 chance he is armed with a shotgun, 1/4 chance he is armed with a rifle, 1/20 chance he will be wearing body armor, and 3/100 chance IEDs are in play (know the standoff distances for hand carried IEDs?).  Here’s more: There is better than equal chance a solo intervenor will be successful, but a 1/4 chance a solo intervenor will be wounded by the active killer.  Finally, there is about 2/3 chance the active killer will commit suicide when he learns an intervenor is closing, or is confronted by armed intervention. Had enough? How about the odds the active killer has a confederate, or that an intervenor will be mistakenly shot (by police or another Good Samaritan intervenor)? Let’s assume the former has a 1/10 chance and the latter 1/4.  These event odds can be calculated differently, or dismissed as meaningless.  Whatever the odds are, they are complex and daunting — maybe to some a hint that solo intervention is mere fantasy. How does the intervention dynamic change if the event becomes a barricaded hostage taker?

If you are undaunted (you can bet Paul Howe is, see here for his “real fight” doctrine),  let’s fast forward — chaos and panic abound.  Potential victims are fleeing incoherently (you direct them out the way you came in), others will “shelter in place” cowering behind furnishings or closed doors. Victims will already be dead or dying, and an intervenor will likely hear others suffering a victim’s fate, possibly at a rate of one every several seconds.  Power may be off, fire alarm and/or sprinklers, or emergency strobes on, public address system blaring warnings. Potential victims may have engaged their own murderer and present a confusing scene to an arriving intervenor.  Still feeling like you CAN and SHOULD?  Read on.

What might you do to lessen the odds you are shot by responding LEOs?  Some of the tactics to accomplish that are equipment/kit oriented, others lie in acting and looking like a “good guy,” including verbally communicating your good intentions (to a 911 operator, fleeing victims, witnesses, and instructing your companion to implement “Plan A” outside after you enter) confirming that you are NOT the active killer.  Part of the same verbal process includes finding out who and how many are doing what, what weapons have been seen, where (get directions), and if there are wounded. An intervenor should not run with an exposed gun, but, whether tactically sound or not, wait until just before hostile contact is anticipated to deploy the handgun.

My thoughts on tactics. Upon entry, the mission is not to search or perform a methodical structure clearing.  It is an all out sprint to the the sound of gunfire and/or screams.  A “shoot on sight” ambush mission.  Likely a blur of walls, halls, doors, and maybe stairs. (You may have to “hopscotch” to avoid slipping on blood). There will be no pie slicing or advancing carefully from one cover position to another. (Can you shoot safely and effectively while moving or with distraction of loud noises, smoke, lights? Know what walls and doors in commercial and public buildings stop what rounds?).  You may have decided in advance that your intervention mission is only to find a preselected person, group, or location (loved ones, your spouse’s office suite, child’s classroom) and remain with them ensconced, to protect them from a roaming active killer.  Or, you may decide the appropriate intervention is to post up in a corridor or hallway, trapping the active killer in a room (hoping your presence, announced by yelling or gunshots, causes him to promptly shoot himself).  That tactic will save those in other rooms, facilitate large scale evacuation, and give time for the cavalry to arrive.  It may be the best plan for an unarmored intervenor or when the active killer has a long gun.  (Nobody promised pretty or rose garden).  Finally, upon conclusion of a successful intervention, the solo intervenor must present himself to the first on scene LEOs as something other than a person in tactical kit with smoking gun in hand.  Finishing the open 911 call and sitting on the ground motionless, hands exposed, or ducking into a closed room with some saved victims might just do the trick.  (See parting shot below to get some other ideas).

My thoughts on equipment/kit.  Assume your EDC on body gear consists of handgun, two spare magazines, white light, knife, smart phone, 12′ of Paracord, eye protection.  As Paul Howe suggests, you ought to have a shoulder slung pack/bag to stow your EDC gear which has additional kit already packed.  I like the kind of pack that can be rotated to the front for access and hold a soft armor panel or hard plate to cover vital organs, leaving the front of the bag/pack and my entire back exposed to responding LEOs so they can see “signs” (see below) that shout good guy. Some pack/bags nicely accommodate a Level III (rifle rated) stand alone 10X12 chest plate (can you run with the additional 5-8 pounds?). (I have “appearance” tested pack-stowed plates in public venues — both a “special threats” handgun (LIIIA 8X10), and a stand alone  (10X12 LIII).  Please, no chest or thigh rigs with visible magazine, grenade, etc., pouches.  Or anything else a well publicized photo has shown an active killer to look like.  For those who like/need tailor made, intensely mission specific kit, Honor Point USA makes a nifty piece (ZOT® ZERO) designed to hold a SAPI plate and backer and other gear, with hydration sleeve (click on photo for link to description and more photos):

ZOT® ZERO - (ULTRA THIN - ULTRA WEIGHT - MULTIPURPOSE PACK) [MADE IN USA]  HP also makes a “plus” expanded version, and an “active shooter module” piece of kit, here.

Be prepared (“go” bag concept, or patrol unit “active shooter” bag) in case the incident is or turns into something other than a deranged, suicidal lone active killer.  Kit slows you down (hat tip Paul Howe), so choose wisely in setup.  Balancing speed with need, consider (in no particular order):

  • Small Halligan bar or SWAT tool
  • Large fat marker (to write on doors/walls);
  • Additional ammunition reloads (second handgun?)
  • Surefire EP3 Sonic Defenders® earplugs
  • Gloves
  • Drinking water, snack
  • Spare cell phone (inactive one will connect to 911 system)
  • Mini two-way handheld radios (matching set, 2 or 3)
  • Duct tape
  • Handcuffs, flexible restraints (visible, LE tools of the trade, “signs”)
  • Smoke/particulate mask respirator
  • IFAK (visible, with red cross or caduceus, a “sign”), extra gunshot wound supplies
  • Traffic vest (Hi-Vis ANSI “POLICE/SHERIFF” the very one locals buy at their cop shop, a “sign”)
  • Door wedge/jam devices
  • Backup flashlight, small strobes, light sticks
  • Blood type patch (visible on pack/bag, a “sign”)

Parting shot: Scope out potential active killer venues you frequent. Introduce yourself to security personnel and LEOs likely to be on scene or respond first there. Ask what visual cues might cause them to instantly identify someone as a Good Samaritan intervenor and not the one who needs to be “serviced” (hat tip Paul Howe).  (One told me that my Safariland cap works for him). Suggest they “get some” at MSW and friends, CSAT, etc.  Study the AARs of those who have been in active killer situations: Haggard, The Tactical Wire.  Don’t leave home without your chosen kit.

So there you have it.  Intervene and deactivate an active killer.  Save human life … hmm.  The CAN is answerable; the MAY is practically irrelevant; your SHOULD and MUST depend on sheepdog mindset and who is inside desperate to be rescued.  After all is said and read, I may not have answered (to your satisfaction) the post question — whether a solo intervention is fantasy or reality. For me, reality is this: I know many active and retired LEOs, former military, competitive shooters, CCW types, parents, spouses, and coworkers who might attempt an intervention of an active killer. To them I say: Godspeed. . . an MSW contributor or reader might just have your back. . . or need your backup.

For NYPD’s compendium of  over 200 “active shooter” incidents worldwide, click here.

For information and LEO training see: ALERRT (Paul Howe’s CSAT is in the neighborhood, and it’s Texas, so the drive ain’t that bad).  For some historical perspective and lessons on interventions  (again, Texas), study a day in August, 1966, where LEO and citizen heroes combined to intervene and successfully deactivate an active killer.  The Texas Tower.  See here and here.  Hat tip Allen Crum et al.

This entry was posted in Gear, Review, Training by Steven Harris. Bookmark the permalink.

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.


  1. I have my ideas concerning kit, but, they fall in the realm of “technique”. And what works for me (within granted authority) will not work for others.

    The LE community (at all levels) did not progress very well in understanding the dynamics of an active shooter from 1966 (Texas Tower) to 2007 (VA Tech). However, in the aftermath of VA Tech, lessens learned and taught through various multifaceted programs have led to dramatic, positive changes as demonstrated at the Washington Navy Yard crisis.

    Civilian involvement in an active shooter crisis is simply word play on “what if(s)”! We can “what if” until we never leave our castle or we can “what if” and move forward towards gunfire because people are in a kill zone. And there are a multitude of “what ifs” in between.

    Ultimately, the truth regarding one’s actions will prevail, regardless how the spirit of the law intertwines with such. And our society is typically one of compassion when the path to truth illuminates an individual’s caring for innocents above their personal safety as a redeeming quality.

  2. Great read. Re your section of your take on “tactics” . . . . sounded somewhat like a USPSA stage. 😉 Just sayin’

    Thanks again

  3. One thing that was missing was proximity.

    People need to think about their proximity to the threat.

    If I am off duty and hear the local mall has had an active shooter they is likely very little I can do even if it becomes a long drawn out affair with the suspect barricading himself. Unless I have all my patrol gear plus rifle and go bag I have a gear problem. Then there is the time problem. I would essentially arrive at a time when I would be providing breaks to those who were on duty when this broke.

    If I am off duty I am really not much more than a person with a CCW. Maybe a touch more because I have had training and have responded to shootings, stabbings and whatnot where I have more up in my brain to apply to the problem.

    I believe that the closer I am to the threat, the closer I am to stopping it. If the suspect rolls into the food court as I am walking past the entrance doors I have a very high probability of success. He may get a few shots of but he is likely not expecting it which is a huge advantage. If I am a few hundred yards away from the shooter I will likely not be able to save as many lives as I would like. If I am on the other end of the mall I may not even hear the shots or even if I do it may take me so long to pinpoint them (My PD has an indoor range and if you are in the front of the building you would think the range is right there but it can only be accessed from the back. You would be peeking into a lot of windows trying to figure out which door is the one.) that the suspect may give up or even be taken out by on duty officers who have 911 calls giving them hints.

    Another point missed in the article here is what to do with your children. I have come to the conclusion that if shooting starts out of sight from me I need to get my kids out of there. They are way too young to fend for themselves. Even with my wife there it may be nearly impossible for her to do it herself. If I am by myself with two small kids I have run out of free hands. As they get older I will adjust but for now they must stay with me. As this article pointed out there is probably around a 1/10 chance of a second killer, maybe less, but then the penalty for making a bet on those odds is potentially me having my kids killed when I could have saved them (and others) from a second killer.

    To sum up I would say never loose focus on the real problem. I think when it comes to active shooters many of us would like them to run a certain way but that is not will get for sure. There have been many officer involved shootings in my department while I have worked here. Each one is unique. Where I was and what I was doing at the time was also unique. I refuse to train exclusively for the last shooting because that is probably not the one I will get. Why shouldn’t active shooters be the same way? Be flexible and THINK before and during an active shooter. Remember part of keeping a suspect from getting inside your OODA loop is being able to process the information quickly. IF you are having to throw out preconceived notions and trying to create plans on the fly you are going to have an uphill battle.

    Think and be flexible. Then you be ready.

  4. If I may offer my own $.02 on “good guy signs”:

    – Some police-supply shops may restrict the sale of clothing items such as traffic vests and windbreakers with LE identifiers to credentialed LE officers, or to agencies instead of individuals; for non-sworn CCW folks, I would suggest either a plain hi-vis traffic vest, or purchasing a vest/jacket with a “SECURITY” identifier instead. If asked to justify such a garment, you could say that you are doing, or will be doing, volunteer security work for your church, Little League/Pop Warner/AYSO games, etc. and thus avoid accusations of impersonating LE.

  5. I once saw those (and what I thought at the time) silly looking “police” or “CCW” sashes that make you look like a beauty pageant queen.

    However with the idea of the good guy vest is anyone seriously considering the “sash?”

  6. Be careful of the sashes and other gear because it may not buy you much in the way of holding fire. Remember that the putz in Aurora was wearing full on tactical gear. They noticed something was amiss but they never revealed what that was. Still as an on duty officer I will be giving everyone a thourough check before determining they are a good guy. It has been said many times before the on duty uniformed officer is in charge. Off duty and plainclothed officer have been shot because they refuse to follow the orders of an on duty uniformed officer.

    Also I forgot to mention about proximity to the event is that if you are coming from out of eyesight range of the active shooter you must be careful not to shoot the first armed person you see shooting another person. That very well might be an armed citizen of off duty officer stopping an active shooter. Without other information an armed man shooting another armed man is a clear case of “see what happens next.” If the armed man shoots unarmed people afterwards, that should be a pretty big clue he is the active shooter. If the armed man merely points his gun at the other armed man who is down on the ground, I think there is a compelling case not to shoot.

  7. Excellent comments, all. Addressing what jjday mentioned, the Israeli first responders developed a very simple protocol during an active shooter, a terrorist attack actually, for eliminating the terrorists without taking out any armed citizen responders: shoot only the armed combatants targeting unarmed civilians. Despite the fact that the situation with multiple active shooters and armed civilian responders was chaos, the final count was every terrorist eliminated without a single responder being shot by police. While this can never be counted on to go so smoothly during the fog of war of a real incident, it is food for thought for responding LEOs and armed civilians not wanting to commit mistaken fratricide against a friendly responder trying to stop a maniacal slimeball from killing innocents.

    • I would love to see the Israeli protocol in writing – at least it would give some ammunition for us against the gungrabbers.

  8. To continue the previous article’s discussions on holding up badges/wearing around neck –

    I understand the general consensus for CCW badges is that they are a straight ticket to the slammer for “police impersonation.” People are going to notice a shiny badge either way though, when held aloft or swinging around on a lanyard.

    What can private citizens do? Arts and crafts? Hold up a piece of yellow or silver cardboard or something? (tongue in cheek) A white piece of paper (blue in my adopted state of Michigan) isn’t going to be very noticeable under stress – at least from what I can tell. Any LEOs would like to comment?

  9. I feel quite comfortable with the good guy “signs” I suggested. I don’t think a CCW badge or ID will be seen/recognized quickly. I do not think false personation of an LEO is an issue deserving of much thought in the context (life/death) of a Good Samaritan intervention of an active killer. As I commented before, the prosecutor who takes on a Good Samaritan who has saved lives will be on the first stagecoach out of town watching the parade for Good Samaritan go by.

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