On April 20, 1999, a mass shooting event at Columbine High School in Colorado shocked our nation. Although far from the first school shooting in history, the Columbine shooting became instantly important to the American people. It was the catalyst which changed the law enforcement response methodology and tactics for a mass shooting event.
Fast forward a few years to September 11, 2001. This is arguably the most significant tragic event in U.S. history, and again prompted the immediate attention of the American public. Although there were several historical terrorist assaults on U.S. soil, the events which transpired on September 11, 2001 quickly conveyed a new and resounding message to the American people. It meant that no U.S. citizen was exempt from attack. No longer were Americans safe from violence, or mass destruction. For the first time, many citizens now felt vulnerable, afraid, and susceptible to future violence.
Many of us speculate on when the next significant attack on the U.S. will come, and who the responsible party will be. The answer is clear: Our great nation is being attacked weekly, one mass shooting event at a time.
Sadly, our nation is experiencing the next 9/11 today. Unlike the revisions, corrections, and adjustments made after Columbine and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the solution in response to increasing mass shooting events against the American people is extremely complicated. Headlines of “when will it end,” and “enough is enough” are common questions asked in news articles we read each week. The proposed mitigation strategy discussions for these weekly mass shooting events are convoluted by political agendas, special interest groups, extreme activists, and a climate where law enforcement officers nationwide are being demonized. Certainly, there are great thoughts, proposals, and other tactics that are valid and offer myriad of mitigation strategies. However, even these efforts are not enough.
Recent examples from the latest of mass shootings confirm and support the need for immediate response and action when a shooter begins a mass killing event. Seconds do count. In Dayton, Ohio, the shooter was shut down in 30 seconds by police officers already within the immediate venue of the shooting. Although a recent report by the medical examiner indicates the Gilroy Festival shooter committed suicide, he was in fact shot by a rapid police response about a minute after his shooting spree began, no doubt saving countless innocent lives. A common denominator from both recent events is the value of a quick, deliberate, and active assault from “the good guys,” using assertive countermeasures to force the gunman to either surrender, commit suicide, or be killed.
Now, more than ever, our LEOs are positioned and empowered to make a difference. All law enforcement officers must make a solid commitment to carry their life-saving firearm, on or off-duty. Why? It’s simple. Law enforcement officers are in every community. They attend church, go to the supermarket, shop at Walmart, attend festivals, and yes—even go to a bar now and then. Still, many officers don’t carry a firearm while off-duty. I’ve heard the standard argument from some officers.
“When I am with my family, the last thing I want to do is endanger their safety by breaking up a fight, confronting a shop-lifter, or engaging in some other law enforcement duty without the benefit of jurisdiction, a uniform, radio, back-up, and other essential tools. Sometimes, it’s just as important to be a good witness.”
I agree with this assessment, and understand the need to use extreme judgement when engaging in off-duty enforcement action. But an active shooter incident changes everything. In an active shooter event, officers are not taking law enforcement action that could endanger their families, they are taking law enforcement action to save them.
When and where will the next mass-shooting occur?
It’s better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it. Plan to carry, plan to win- always. Prepare to deploy from off-duty status, and at all times have a gun, ammunition, badge and other prominent ID immediately available. Keeping these items in your glovebox, center console, or other device within your vehicle does you little good unless you are in your vehicle when the mass shooting incident begins.
Lastly, ensure you regularly train in deploying from an off-duty status. Incorporated into this training is an officer’s mindset and mental preparedness to act. When/then thinking (when an active shooter approaches, then I will …) is the first step to preparedness, and a key stage in the mental blue-printing (heuristics) process. Mental blue-printing provides an officer with a predisposed plan of action, allows quick and efficient thinking, and is vital to an active shooter rapid-response strategy. Officers who engage in healthy lifestyles, indulge in moderation, and routinely participate in physical fitness activities are better positioned when they are called to action.
It takes just one off-duty law enforcement officer, carrying their life-saving firearm, to quickly and effectively shut off an active shooter. This can save so many lives. It can make a difference today, tomorrow, or next week. Make the commitment, keep training, and always carry!