“Gun!” Advice for Active Shooter Survival

What a shame that I even need to write about this topic.  The ironic benefit of having suffered so many shootings as a society is there have been enough to develop a cache of data with regard to increasing your chances of survival. 

I have combed through research, attended trainings for my day job, and put together some tips here for you. I pray we never need them.

According to the book “Active Shooter: Events and Response,” co-authored by J. Pete Blair, executive director of the Texas State University based Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, the best mindset in these situations is to “AVOID, DENY and DEFEND.”   

This is similar but an adjustment from RUN, HIDE, FIGHT, a Homeland Security concept.  According to Blair, he prefers DENY to HIDE, because killers can find people who hide.  It also doesn’t suggest taking some control of the situation such as actively denying the killer entry into a room where you’ve taken cover. 

Preparing for a mass shooting incident begins long before bad things happen.  It begins with good choices and situational awareness out in public.  Let’s be real.  ANY time you’re out in public, your safety is partially reliant on the intentions of others around you.  If everyone behaves, barring an act of nature or unfortunate accident, your chances of being safe are high.  For example, a few months ago I was driving  home with friends and family in my car when a woman driving next to us tried to come into my lane.  I braked and swerved, avoiding a side-swipe.  What happened next makes me think she didn’t see me next to her and thought for some reason I tried to hit or block her.   Her behavior became completely irrational. She sped up, changed lanes in front me, slammed on her brakes at highway speeds and nearly caused me to rear-end her in heavy traffic.  I slowed down to avoid her, changed lanes to separate myself from her and nothing I did stopped her from getting back in front of me.  She thoughtlessly endangered my passengers and other drivers on the highway.  Three more times in the span of a few minutes, she cut into the lane ahead of me and slammed her brakes.  I firmly believe if not for my driving training at work and years behind the wheel of a police car, this would have ended with a hit and run, severe damage to my car, and serious injuries to the people I was driving.  It was completely unexpected, absolutely without provocation, and dangerous.  People like this are out in the world.  Some have weapons and more nefarious plans. 

Step ONE

Understand and expect others in public to misbehave on some level when you’re out in public.  If you are  mentally prepared for the potential of a bad thing, you’re a step ahead.  It is well documented that we are slow to react to the sound of gunfire.  Humans, hearing an odd noise such as the sound of gunfire (which many may might not recognize) first pause to access (freeze) and this takes precious time.   Best you have a plan already to make up for that lost time.  The fact you are reading this shows you are willing to mentally prepare for the worst.  Step one, CHECK!

Step TWO

Know your exits.  This can become a habit that doesn’t interfere with your ability to enjoy yourself and your family when out in public.  Take 30 seconds in every crowded setting to look for the emergency exits, kitchen access, staff access, gates, or any doors out of the place that are NOT the main exit.  Why?  The law requires emergency or multiple exits for buildings.  If a situation unfolds and you head for the main exit, you can easily become caught in a stampede or bottle neck.  This is good to know for a fire as well.  It really does only take a few seconds to get a grasp of the lay out of a restaurant, pub, theatre,  concert arena, or other venue.  


Believe your ears and eyes.  We (humans) don’t want to believe the bad thing is happening and we don’t want to be the first ones to get up and move.  It is a biological fear related to being part of the group and to being accepted.  That being said,  if you think you see a gun or hear gunfire, yell “GUN!” or “GUNMAN!” and MOVE! AWAY from the gunfire!   This is the “AVOID” piece of the mantra.  If someone is with you, take them, and drag them if necessary. *Leave your things! Go out the nearest exit, which can include windows, and get away from the scene before calling 9-1-1.  If you have to stop to take cover while you’re exiting, look for concrete walls, pillars, cars, thick trees, or anything that will potentially stop a bullet and hide your location. Don’t peek from the same place twice.  Go high then low.  Staying low is helpful as research suggests most shooters are aiming for the torso our head as they move through a crowd.   

*Your personal property will eventually be returned by police if the items you left are not evidence.  It will take some time as they lock down and process the scene.  Be patient and let police know during your statement you left things behind.  


If you can’t make an exit,  it’s time to DENY the shooter access to you and others with you.  You have to make a quick decision to take cover.  In tactical-speak, COVER is something that will stop a bullet, not just conceal your location.  Concrete walls, thick doors, support pillars are best if any are available. You don’t need to be up against them, just behind them. If you’re too close on a pillar or cover you limit your own view.  Heavier is better.  Rooms near elevators are a good choice because walls may be reinforced.  Bullets tend to follow the ground or walls, so keep that in mind. 

If you have no choice but to hunker down in a room, DENY the shooter access by locking and barricading the door.  Turn of the lights.  Silence your phones.  Get behind whatever furniture or cover you have available.  Do not lie down, which limits your movement.  Be mindful of shadows and back-lighting or silhouetting yourself.  Pay attention to light coming through any windows or from your phone screen.  Light can give away your location in any combat situation, and you are now in one. 

Look around the room.  What weapons do you have?  Presume the shooter WILL come in.  Make a plan to ATTACK the shooter with as many people as are willing.  Chances are great the shooter, if they come in, is going to try to shoot at everyone in the room.  This is the time to go down with a fight.  Your actions could most certainly save lives.   If people are calling for help, think twice before opening the door to allow people inside.  This may sound callous, but be sure the gunman is not outside before you open a door to allow anyone inside.  Someone calling for help is only potentially drawing a shooter to your location. 

If they pass your room, and the shooting sounds stop, don’t assume it’s over.  Stay where you are until help arrives. They shooter could be reloading or searching. Assess your location if there is time. Are all doors blocked? Can you exit from the window?  Can you put something in the window visible to the outside to show you’re in the room?  Keep each other calm and quiet. Air is your friend so take slow, deep tactical breaths.  Check everyone quietly for injuries.  If anyone is shot, keep pressure on their wound. One person text or call 9-1-1.   Tell them “there is a shooter at …” and give the address or location.  And then stop talking. Leave the phone line open so Dispatch, but be sure it’s silenced. Do this quietly!  Everyone else stay off of your phones.  That being said, you could consider using your phone camera to see the hallway by sliding it carefully under the door or around your cover for a continuous view. 

When officers find you, don’t hug or approach them. Remember, they have no IDEA who the shooter(s) is(are).  Stay calm, put your hands in the air and spread your fingers.  Physically SHOW them you are not the threat.  If they have been in or around gunfire, they might not hear you trying to TELL them you are not a threat.  Follow their commands.  Officers rely primarily on what they see in tense situations.  They will be on edge like you and are just trying to get everyone out safely.  

What if I have a concealed weapon?

Unless you are law enforcement or with proper credentials, trained to respond to these types of situations, get yourself and others out of harms way and use your weapon only if the shooter comes to you.  If you are running around with your gun out looking for the shooter, you are a potential target for responding officers who have no idea what the actual threat looks like.  Officers looking for the shooter will have to stop and deal with you if they don’t shoot you in the confusion, thus delaying the search for the actual murderer(s).   Use it in the instance you are directly confronted by the shooter.  Be sure you know how to use the weapon. 

I hope with all of my heart you never need this advice.  Be safe in your travels.  There are many credible books, blogs, and articles on this topic.  Here are a few I located for more information; 

https://www.businessinsider.com/navy-seal-reveals-10-steps-to-survive-a-mass-shooting-2015-10     (This one recommends carrying a concealed weapon with caveats.)

“Active Shooter: Events and Response” by John P. Blair  (Author), Terry Nichols  (Author), David Burns (Author), John R. Curnutt  (Author)


Update! I located a video about the sound of gunfire. If you don’t know what it sounds like, you may not recognize it. Thank you to Gun Runnerz for taking the time to make this video to help others be safe! https://youtu.be/lduyitPDQjY

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