10 Lessons for Armed Citizens From the Aurora Theater Mass Murder

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by Ed Monk The Survival Mom

     

NOTE FROM LISA: In the days and weeks following the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I’m sure I wasn’t the only mom in America who wondered, “What would I have done? How could I have protected my kids?” Some of us have made the decision to carry a handgun with us everyday or just occasionally. Would a loaded handgun in the hands of a legally armed citizen have made a difference in Aurora? This article contains some great insights and food for thought in answer to that question.

We encourage our defensive handgun students to study media stories about violent attacks to find lessons, consider options, and conduct mental rehearsals. There are still many facts and details the public does not know about the u201Cactive shooteru201D attack in a movie theater in Aurora, CO, on July 20th. However, in its immediate aftermath, there does seem to be enough information to reap valuable lessons for legally armed citizens to learn or re-learn about preparing for, identifying, and reacting to an u201Cactive shooteru201D (AS) event. These include lessons about mindset, gear, and tactics. To limit the size of this article, I offer ten. For simplicity, I will refer to the Active Shooter (AS) and the armed citizen as u201Cheu201D or u201Chim.u201D

1. When an AS begins his attack, it may not be immediately obvious to you and others what exactly is happening. After many AS attacks, witnesses have stated that they initially believed the gunshots they first heard were fireworks, construction, or some kind of prank. Even for those of us who shoot often and are very familiar with the sounds of gun shots (although usually altered through hearing protection), that sound in a crowded public place would be extremely uncommon or a new experience for most people.

In the Aurora AS attack, this confusion was amplified by the darkness of the theater and (at least somewhat) reasonable assumptions by many witnesses who initially believed the smoke and shots were special effects or some surprise special promotion by the theater for this special midnight premiere of a hyped-up action movie. Although rare and bizarre, we must keep the AS attack mentally filed as the possible cause for sights and sounds we experience in public. The more quickly we realize and identify an AS after he begins shooting, the more quickly we can react to protect ourselves and other innocent people.

2. An AS attack can happen in low-light and darkness. The vast majority of AS attacks I've researched have occurred in daylight or in well-lit indoor locations. Two exceptions (until now) that immediately come to mind are portions of the Mumbai (India) attack by teams of multiple shooters and the AS who turned off the lights in the aerobics workout room in a Pennsylvania fitness center before shooting at women inside. The Aurora AS attack occurred inside a dark theater at night.

Had an armed citizen been in that theater, a tactical light would have been very useful (maybe a requirement?) to properly identify and engage the AS, if the decision was made to do so. Because many companies are making tactical lights that are small, lightweight, bright, and reasonably priced, keeping one with you is now easy to do. Gear will do nothing by itself, so knowing how to fight with your handgun while holding and using a tactical light would be a critical skill in such a low-light attack. Night sights would, of course, also be extremely helpful in engaging the AS in a dark environment, after you have positively identified the threat.

3. An armed citizen may get a u201Clong distanceu201D handgun shot at an AS. Many of us have heard the statistics about the u201Caverageu201D distance of a self-defense shooting being very close — within the 1-5 yard range. And we are told the vast majority of such shootings are within 7 yards. This seems correct and reasonable since most self-defense shootings are against attackers who must get close enough to touch you. So it seems logical for armed citizens to spend most limited training time and ammunition on the most likely self-defense scenarios, those that are within spitting distance.

But I have heard some armed citizens say that practicing defensive handgun shooting beyond seven yards is a waste of time, because you could never, u201Cjustify,u201D shooting someone at that distance. An AS scenario would be an exception to that theory. If you had been in the back half of that Aurora movie theater, or on the side opposite the exit door the AS entered, you very well might have been 20-30 yards away from him. This long-distance engagement could occur in any AS attack location, such as a parking lot, school, mall, or church. So, to be prepared to act on and end an AS attack, the armed citizen may need the ability to, under severe stress (and other adverse conditions), shoot at and hit (maybe multiple times) the killer at distances that require increased skill.

A gun fight is a balance of accuracy and speed. At a defensive shooting distance of two yards against someone trying to kill you, speed is extremely important in that balance. While you must get solid hits, they do not require precision, and time is extremely limited. At longer distances, the accuracy-speed balance tips toward accuracy. These are precision shots, especially against smaller body parts or a moving target. Rushed and missed shots against an AS fail to stop the mass murder, allowing the number of victims to increase. Missed shots also waste your ammunition, draw attention to you (more on this later), and cause danger to innocent people.

So, to prepare for the possibility of engaging an active shooter, the armed citizen needs to train at longer distances. How far? The question might not be, u201CHow far away from the target should I train?u201D, but instead know how far you are capable and confident of getting hits. A suggestion is to start with the handgun you carry at a close distance, then increase the distance incrementally by a few yards at a time. Each shooter doing this will discover, with his skill and chosen gun, at what distance he loses confidence in getting hits. That is an important thing to know. If an armed citizen then encounters an AS at a distance beyond where he feels confident, he has three choices: escape; hide or find cover and wait for the AS to move closer; or advance towards the AS until the armed citizen feels confident in his ability.

The ability to hit a long-distance target under stress requires proper training and proper gear. Armed citizens carry a wide variety of handgun types that have a wide variety of capabilities. Small guns with short barrels and small sights are less suited to long-distance hits under stress. So armed citizens who want to be prepared to engage an AS at longer distances should choose, carry and train with a handgun that gives them the capability, with proper training, to do so. Imagine how an armed citizen would feel if he was inside the back corner of such a theater when such an AS attack began, with only a North American Arms .22 micro-revolver in his/her pocket or purse? Our gear and our training are the only variables armed citizens have control over once an AS attack starts, so we should maximize both.

4. The AS may be wearing body armor. If initial media reports are accurate, the murderer in the Aurora theater attack is at least the third active shooter (not counting the L.A. bank robbers) to be wearing some type of body armor. Most armed citizens who might engage an AS would probably attempt torso shots. If successful at achieving torso hits, they likely would not stop a murderer wearing a protective vest.

Using a handgun to engage an AS with a protective vest would require precision shooting while under stress. If the AS protective vest is visible and obvious, then all shots should be aimed at points other than typical u201Ccenter of upper chestu201D for which most of us train. But it might not be so obvious. What might happen is the brave armed citizen, attempting to stop the AS, is frustrated and puzzled as to why his initial shots are not stopping the AS. This supports a decision to carry extra ammunition. The armed citizen might assume he is missing the AS, and not alter sight placement. If you are confident in your sights and trigger press, and are seeing no effects of several torso shots, consider the possibility of body armor.

Regardless of when you realize or suspect body armor on the AS, immediately move the location of your aim. Possible alternate bullet placement options (if exposed) include the head, shoulders, armpits, hips, legs or arms (but they can be armored as well), and ankles or feet. All of these require precision shots against small targets, all of which might be moving. Having confidence in one's gear and skill would be essential for such hits, which requires training.

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