Within the last month, we’ve experienced a mass shooting at a festival in California, another one at a Walmart in Texas, and yet another on a crowded street lined with busy bars in Ohio. We can discuss for days the issue of assault weapons or the steps we can take to put a halt to these incidents; I am certain we would have some good debates no matter where we stand on these issues. But I am not going down that road—at least not today.
Rather, I am going to ask you to put yourself at that festival, in that Walmart, and outside that bar as an off-duty cop out for a good time with friends or family. I am asking you to place yourself at these locations on the same day and at the same time these horrific incidents took place.
So, I will ask you again: Are you ready?
Setting the Scene
You’re having breakfast when your significant other lists all the food items suddenly missing from your house. It looks like it’s time to load the SUV, pack up the kids, and embark for the fun of dodging shopping carts at your local grocery store—perhaps Walmart or Costco. You remember to bring your wallet, your debit card, and coupons (hey, a buck here and a buck there adds up pretty quickly). You are two blocks from the house when you remember that you forgot your cell phone and the shopping list that you both hurriedly scrawled before leaving. It’s a hot one today—what did you expect in August? Thankfully, you were smart enough to put on a pair of shorts and a tank top.
Then, you arrive. Up and down the aisles you trek as you consciously glance at your watch. You have a million things you wanted to do today; this ain’t one of them. One kid keeps asking you to buy this or buy that. The other one is sitting in that little shopping cart seat (which, by the way, looks very painful) and is staring at you while he grabs at everything on the shelf.
Then, It Happens
You hear some sort of disturbance coming from the front of the store while you’re in the dairy section at the rear of the building. Shouting grabs your attention as you strain to figure out what’s going on. Then you hear it: pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop. You identify the sound of glass breaking and see crowds of people running your way. You realize someone is shooting, and you instantly try to identify the caliber of the weapon based on its noise. Your family is looking at you, horrified, while the little one is still grabbing at things on the shelves.
You instinctively reach for your handgun—which is nowhere to be found. You left it at home. That empty feeling smashes you in the gut as you are overwhelmed by stimuli. What are you going to do? Your family—you have to get them to safety. Should you run into the dairy cooler? Is there a way out of there? The pop-pop-pop is getting louder and louder—as is the screaming. You see him at a distance of about 15 yards, but he is looking the other way. Your little one starts to cry.
You can finish this scene yourself. How is it going to play out?
A Better Scenario
We are law enforcement professionals. We learn about terrible incidents as they are happening and respond to them immediately. We have a greater antenna for situational awareness. But we are also fathers and mothers—every-day, regular people who do every-day, regular stuff. We know all about mass shootings, but we also know that we must live our lives. We will go to the market, go to church or synagogue, and go walk the sidewalks on a beautiful evening. But we must also know better.
Our comfortable clothes may need to be replaced by clothing which will allow us to carry our firearms. The officer presented in the scenario above should have never left home without his handgun. Fair enough—you wouldn’t be able to carry it with shorts and a tank top. But guess what? You can wear a pair of cargo shorts with belt loops and an oversized t-shirt to conceal your weapon. Remember, the shooter was only 15 yards away and looking elsewhere in my scenario. If you had your firearm, you could have put some well-placed rounds downrange.
Obviously, when you carry your firearm, you must also have your badge and your ID. You must also realize that you are subservient to any orders a uniformed officer gives you. Your identity will be challenged in such a scenario, and you must comply until everything is squared away.
As soon as you entered that market—especially with your family—you should have played the “what if” game. You should have scouted out the exits and/or hiding places. Were there any pillars that would have provided cover? Remember, on an airline, they often tell you to count the seats between yours and the exit; in a fire, you may not be able to see through the smoke. Did you do that?
Of course, it’s easier to leave your loved ones at home. It is just too dangerous out there in the real world. But how realistic is that? How normal is that?
It is better for everyone that you be prepared for all eventualities at all times in a public setting. Your color code can’t remain in the red for too long—that isn’t healthy. But you should keep it around a darker orange.
This is, unfortunately, the new normal. There will be times when you cannot have your firearm on your person: traveling on an airline, walking around another city, going to an NFL game. It can be an unsettling experience. However, these occasions are outliers.
There is absolutely no excuse for you, as a law enforcement professional in your hometown area, to not to have your firearm with you at all times. Yes, it is a mindset that may be uncomfortable for some, but the alternative may take you back to the scenario in which you didn’t stop the mass shooting because you couldn’t.
In recent years, we have all been told that a mindset shift from warrior to guardian was preferable. Perhaps it was. But these events serve as reminders that we must keep that warrior mindset plugged in—not at the expense of that guardian mindset, mind you, but more so as a supplement to it. This should have never been an either/or proposition.
Adapting to the New Normal
Again, this is the new normal. We cannot afford to change our mindset back again. We must remember that when we are eating in a restaurant, walking through a park, shopping at the supermarket, laughing in a theater, and relaxing at the beach; an active shooter would surely assume no one will be armed at the beach.
That scenario hasn’t happened yet, but suppose it does. Will you be ready?