We’ve seen violent attacks on the rise here on U.S. soil. We hear about them on the internet and nightly news. Some people choose to use these events as motivation to prepare in order to increase their survivability if they ever find themselves in a similar situation. Some will learn about them on the nightly news, get fired up and angry over it, but choose to do nothing to prepare themselves. I’m not saying that preparing for these types of violent attacks is going to guarantee your safety, but it sure as hell will stack the deck in your favor. I’m a husband and father of two daughters. It’s my responsibility to do everything possible to keep my family safe, even if that means giving my life in the process.

Our goal here as Veterans is to pass along our knowledge of surviving these attacks based on our training, and experiences. We are going to present you with a few common scenarios you may find yourself and/or your family in, and provide you with how we would react and respond to the situation. Let me caveat this by saying it’s easy to sit here and think of how we would respond when we aren’t in the midst of a violent attack. Running through these scenarios in your mind ahead of time is like performing a dry run without the bullets flying. If you practice these dry runs mentally, when the crap hits the fan you’ll be able to react more quickly and confidently in the midst of chaos. Feel free to ask us any questions you have in the comments section and we’ll respond to you in a timely manner.

Scenario #1 – Movie Theater

Think like a Veteran: Surviving a Violent Attack
The aftermath of the mass shooting on July 20, 2012 (image courtesy of washingtonpost.com)

You’re enjoying your weekend off work and decide to take the family out to see a movie. You enter the movie theater, purchase your candy and popcorn and proceed to the theater room your movie is showing in. Everybody gets situated in their seats and sits back to enjoy some theater food, and a movie. The theater lighting darkens and the movie begins. Once the movie has been playing for a period of time you notice somebody enter from the back standing at the head of the aisle. To any movie theater goer it’s probably just the theater attendant checking on things. It’s too dark too really tell who it is. All of the sudden gun fire erupts from the back, people are screaming, and its absolute chaos. The person that walked in and stood at the back is an active shooter looking to inflict as much damage as possible. How do you react? what is your thought process? What are your priorities?

Scott Witner:

We’ve seen movie theater shootings several times here in the United States. We shouldn’t let these cowards scare us from enjoying our freedoms. So if my family and I are going to attend a movie here is what I do to increase my odds of survival in the event this goes down. First, I always carry a high lumen flashlight with me, especially if going to a movie theater – verify the light works and the batteries are good ahead of time. Typically, theaters are what they call ‘gun free’ zones so you don’t have that option if you’re a licensed concealed carry citizen. The high lumen flashlight will allow you to not only see where you are going in the midst of chaos but also allow you to temporarily stun the gunmen for a few seconds to allow you to either run or subdue him. In this type of situation a few seconds can save your life.

Also, when you enter a theater try to identify the exits before the movie starts. If I’m at the theater alone I will try to choose a seat that is in the back of the theater which gives me maximum visibility and situational awareness. If I’m with my family my first priority is to get them on the ground and protected from the gunfire. At this point I’m going to dial 911 from my cell phone, do my best to assess the situation, locate the gunman, and determine if I can move my family fast enough to the nearest exit. This is going to be more of a confined space too, so there may be too many people trying to exit which will cause more harm than good if the gunman is still shooting. If that is the case, stay put with your family and be prepared to confront the gunman. My ultimate goal is to get my family out quickly and safely, not go toe to toe with the gunman.

Robert McCartney:

Scott covers this very well. As he mentioned above, typically theaters are designated as ‘gun free’ zones. That being said, you should do your homework. Check with the city ordinances, State laws, and any applicable Federal laws to see if this restriction applies to you. For me, it does not. I always carry concealed when I go to the theater, especially with my family. Having a firearm doesn’t guarantee you will win the gun fight. Often these active shooters are heavily armed, and wearing some kind of armor. What a firearm does do is give you options. As a former machine gunner I can’t overstate the awesome power of suppressive fire.

Suppressive fire doesn’t need to be perfect, just accurate enough that rounds are snapping near the gunman. In conjunction with a methodical suppressive fire, you could move your family to the nearest exit while pinning a gunman. Know your limitations if you attempt this. Typically people only carry a single magazine, or low capacity firearms while conceal carrying. The goal shouldn’t be to snipe the gunman, instead just a steady rate-of-fire that keeps him/her pinned while you move in a controlled manner towards the exit. Your family should be directed to run for their lives after your second, or third shot. Talk about this before it happens, come up with a family plan. Receiving gunfire is scary, especially to someone who isn’t conditioned for it. With my family safe, I would disengage and escape myself. If an advantageous situation presented itself (such as one of my suppressive rounds impacting the gunman in a significant manner), then I may take the fight to its conclusion, however my ultimate goal is to get my family out safely.

Scenario #2 – Shopping Mall

Think Like a Veteran: Surviving a Violent Attack
People scramble for safety as armed police hunt for the gunmen who went on the shooting spree (image courtesy of ibtimes.com).

It’s the holiday season and there are an increased number of people out shopping. Shopping malls are typically pretty full and busy, but add in the fact that it’s the holiday and the number of people in the mall exponentially grows. Just image one day you decide to go to your local shopping mall to shop for yourself, or a loved one. You enter the mall, holiday music is playing over head, families and children are all around laughing and having a good time. You stop and get a cup of coffee to sip on as you walk around looking at what the mall has to offer. As you’re perusing the mall and enjoying your cup of hot coffee you hear an explosion come from the central food court area. Then all of a sudden several gunmen reveal themselves and start opening fire on the crowd of shoppers. You’re shopping by yourself amongst strangers. What do you do? Run? Fight? Hide and hope they don’t find you?

Scott Witner:

Whether you’re under attack from a group of terrorists, or a lone wolf you have options available to you. Obviously the first option should be finding an escape route and making a run for it. Malls usually have numerous exits as do the stores attached to them. If the gunmen are not in your immediate area, try to identify one of those exits to escape through it. Once clear of danger, call 911 from your cell phone. Again, I don’t recommend confronting the gunmen and fighting them – this should be your last resort, but if it becomes a hostage situation that may be your only hope of getting out and preventing further deaths. If you’re being held hostage with a group of others try to identify those that could possibly assist you in a revolt against them. Be aware that this may get a few killed in the process, but at the end of the day it will save others and prevent a total loss of life.

One of the keys when confronting the hostage takers is violence of action. The Marine Corps instilled this in me from day one of boot camp. If you’re going to go after the threat do so with absolute aggression and violence. Use anything you can get your hands on as a weapon or to throw at them. When you attack, do not stop until the threat has been knocked unconscious and is no longer moving. If you work as a team utilizing this technique you just may be able to make it home to your family. A perfect example of this was on Flight 93 during the 9/11 attacks. A group of passengers banded together and went after the terrorists using whatever they had in an aggressive manner. Yes, they lost their lives in the process, but in the long run their heroic actions saved many others from being victims that day. To do something like this requires a mindset knowing that you may not make it out alive, but there are others that can be saved as a result of your actions.

Robert McCartney:

Movies like Die Hard sometimes make people think that is feasible for a single person, lightly armed to take on a group of armed assailants. However, in reality a single person versus a group will almost always be killed. When I was in the Army the rule was 3-1 (in our favor) to keep pressing the action, absent this advantage we would call for reinforcements, or some kind of fires to regain the advantage. As Scott mentions, escape should be your ultimate goal. However, if you find yourself stuck in an interior store with no exterior exit then there are a few things you can do. First, take charge of the situation, don’t wait for help you may not have enough time for that. Find an employee and start directing people to the employee section. In almost all stores there is a room with a door that locks, get there and lock the door.

If there is a desk inside (or other furniture), barricade the door and get people as far away from the door as possible. In mall shooting scenarios the gunmen are looking for target rich environments (densely populated section of civilians), the goal is to inflict as much violence as fast as possible. They just wont have the time to go from store-to-store checking all employee offices before SWAT, or some other reaction force arrives. Once inside, and barricaded keep planning. Are there things there you can be use as weapons if the gunman do make entry, is there a further means of hiding/escaping. Can you lift the ceiling tiles and continue to egress, just keep thinking and keep making decisions. One other factor here is to keep people calm, and quiet. The last thing you want is a lot of noise coming from your area that draws a gunman towards you. This is also a great time to make sure someone calls 911.

Scenario #3 – Hostage situation

Think like a Veteran: Surviving a Violent Attack
Wounded people are evacuated outside the Bataclan concert hall (image courtesy of cnn.com).

You and some friends decided to attend a concert. Concert halls are always packed to capacity. There are so many people moving around having fun, that no one noticed that men had positioned themselves by all the exits. Suddenly, a flashbang grenade is thrown into the crowd and some of the gunman begin shooting in the air. A single man jumps onto the stage and takes the microphone away from the lead singer. He declares that you are all now hostages of ISIS and if anyone moves, they will be killed.

Robert McCartney:

This is a worst-case scenario, and it brings up a great point that we haven’t yet addressed. The motivation of the gunman is extremely important in dictating your actions. For example a mentally ill person with hostages is different from a bank robbery with hostages. Police negotiators are extremely successful with both mentally ill, and barricaded robbery suspects. In these instances, if you find yourself without an escape and are there for the whole show, you should only fight if something extremely advantageous presents itself (ex. robbery suspect falls asleep from exhaustion, or collapses from his wounds from an earlier engagement). However, knowing that these hostage takers are ISIS I have to mentally accept that I am already dead. Yes that is correct, I am already dead. Terrorist, ISIS in particular, have shown time and again that they are willing to die before surrendering, and that their ultimate goal is to kill as many people as possible. Knowing that I am dead already frees me from certain inhibitions with regards to my actions (will my actions cost others their life?). I for one refuse to stand by as I am lined up with a group of people and shot, or worse beheaded for a propaganda video. If it is my day to die, then I chose to die fighting until I cannot fight anymore.

Accepting your death can be a hard thing to do, often people cling to hope in even the most dire of circumstances. The only chance here is when the engagement happens, the entire group of hostages joins in on the action. If hundreds of people simultaneously attack the gunman they can, and will be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. People will most definitely die, however some will survive. Obviously you won’t be able to plan this, but if someone initiates it before you, take the initiative and join in the fight. As Scott mentioned earlier, violence of action here is your only tool. Use whatever you have available; your glass, your fist, a chair, a table, just fight and don’t stop until they are all disabled, or dead. Timing is also important, at the start of a hostage situation is where the gunman will be the least organized, and the most likely that you will be able to incite the crowd to join in on the fight. If you wait until people have been lined up and executed some people will slip into a lethargic state (shock) that they will not be able to recovery from. Use the initial confusion to engage the enemy as best you can.

Scott Witner:

As Robert said, this is a worst case scenario when you’ve got explosions and gunfire coming from multiple locations. There will also be no clear route to exit if the gunmen are standing at each exit or door. Most people are going to have a cell phone, so again get that call to 911 done ASAP, give them as much information as possible. I personally would look to identify the closest exit and formulate a hasty plan to overpower the gunman closest to that exit. This is going to take a team effort to be successful, so recruit those around you that are willing. Keep in mind that most organized terror organizations have been training these gunmen since they were kids and have turned them into savages who are not afraid to take a life, or give theirs in the process. Violence of action is your key to success, and it has to be executed sooner than later.

You need to be able to react during the initial explosions and gunfire. If you wait, chances are the executions will start and your chance of survival will rapidly decrease. Again, most of us will not be permitted to carry a concealed firearm into the concert so the name of the game is improvise, adapt, and overcome. Low-tech weapons will be your only option. That means using anything available to you that isn’t bolted to the ground as a weapon, or to throw at the gunmen. As I said before, I will always (at a minimum) have my high lumen flashlight on me. This immediately becomes a force multiplier, providing me with an extremely bright light to temporarily blind someone, and can be utilized as a striking weapon. None of these tactics mentioned are going to guarantee your survival or escape, but it gives you some tools in the tool-box just in case the need for them ever arises.

Think like a Veteran: Surviving a Violent Attack
Chris Mintz was shot 7 times while trying to protect others from the gunman at Umpqua Community College (image courtesy of startribune.com).

Having a set of tools with you every day can increase your survivability if confronted with a similar situation. Myself and the other Veterans here at the Loadout Room know the importance of everyday carry items. For me that consists of a quality blade, flashlight, and phone. When I’m legally permitted to do so I will have my concealed carry firearm on me. Another item to consider is a small yet simple medical kit that can be used to stop extreme bleeding. For me that medical kit consists of a SWAT-T Tourniquet and a package of Celox Gauze. These two items held together by a heavy-duty rubber band fit perfectly in a back pocket or cargo pocket. I also recommend getting training for medical and first aid. If you’re a concealed carry citizen then I highly recommend firearms training from a reputable instructor. Just having all the fancy gear won’t do you much good in the face of adversity. You need to have the know how and mindset. Two books I recommend you purchase and read are ‘Sentinel‘ by Pat McNamara and ‘100 Deadly Skills‘ by Clint Emerson, especially if you’re a husband and/or father.

Don’t let the actions of these terrorists change the way you live your life – that’s what they want. Be prepared, remain alert, and enjoy the freedoms this country has to offer.

*Featured photo courtesy of DVIDS