You Have More Power Than You Think: 2003 Active Shooter Year in Review

There were eleven active shooter events in 2003 alone. Of those eleven, three were stopped by civilian interference, three ended in the shooter’s suicide, three ended in a police standoff, and two ended on the shooter’s own volition with police apprehension later that day. While I could analyze each and every one of these scenarios, I really want to focus in on the events stopped by civilians. Normal people really have no clue how effective they can be in an active shooter event. The key is to be prepared, so that you can act quickly. When presented with the situation, your body will freeze if you don’t know what to do. The good news is that the steps to deal with an active shooter situation engage those three natural bodily responses: Flight, Fight, and Freeze.

Flight: Adrenaline is not a bad thing, when harnessed properly. The problem arrives when you have not had to deal with a situation before, and your brain does not know how to handle it. In an active shooter situation, you want to work with your natural bodily responses, not against them. Your first instinct should be to run from the situation.

Freeze: IF you can’t run, hide. Use that natural instinct to lay low and stay hidden. Once hidden away from the shooter, call the police.

Fight: IF and ONLY IF you cannot run or hide, then you should prepare to fight for your life and the lives of others. Tackle the shooter, get the gun away from him. He will not be expecting this, so you will have the element of surprise on your side.

Now, let’s refocus on those active shooter cases. On July 17, 2003, a disgruntled employee interrupted a board meeting carrying a rifle and two buckets of gasoline. After dousing two people with gasoline, one of whom ran out of the room, and unsuccessfully attempting to set the other person on fire, he pulled the gun and shot several shots. Administrators grabbed the shooter and wrestled the gun away from him, In the end, one person was wounded, but no one was killed. There were reports later that when the shooter began shooting, people got up and just started running or hit the floor. This active shooter situation is the perfect mix of run, hide, fight.

One of the keys to the fight scenario we teach is wait for your moment. Don’t just stupidly charge into the line of fire, or you will get yourself killed. Instead, wait for the shooter to stop and reload or enter a room where an ambush is waiting. This happened in the Gold Leaf Nursery shooting of July 28, 2003. The shooter showed up to kill his estranged wife and her alleged boyfriend. He was restrained by a civilian when he stopped to reload his gun.

The third civilian-impacted active shooter event involved a freshman student who was bullied for his severe acne. He targeted the fellow freshman who bullied him, but he missed one shot and hit a second student in the neck, killing him instantly. His gym coach confronted him, and he dropped the gun. In this case, the student was targeting someone who had hurt him before. This in no way makes it acceptable or justified, but it does allow for some understanding. I have said it before. Hurting people hurt people. People do not just snap unless they are just mentally unstable, which is diagnosable and should not surprise anyone. This kid was hurting, and someone should have noticed. There is not an environment in today’s schools that promotes love and acceptance and belonging and respect. It is a hostile environment that desperately needs to be fixed. So, while what this student did is absolutely wrong, we have to consider the situation. This was a desperate cry for help from someone who was most likely too scared to admit he needed it or who was not taught how to properly handle his emotions. The culture needs to change, and the sooner the better.

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