Realistic Response to Armed Shooters in Schools

Realistic Response to Armed Shooters in Schools

Talking tactics with teachers in a classroom.
Photo: Sandy Lawrence

Any time the subject of an unarmed response versus an armed killer in a school comes up, the inevitable knee-jerk, uninformed responses are as predictable as a celebrity divorce. They go something like this:

  • “Just shoot them.”
  • “Arm the teachers.”
  • “That’s why I carry.”
  • “Get your CCW.”
  • “Bullet to the head.”
  • “You’re an idiot.”

Without fail, most responses will be some variant of these, and no matter how reasoned, impassioned, informed, or lucid the counter-arguments are, the confirmation bias is so strong, they are disregarded out of hand. Here’s my attempt to shine some light on the topic.

To begin with, I have guns. I have had guns since it was legal for me to do so. I grew up around guns. I first shot when I was four years old. My grandfather owned a gun store. I have a makeshift range on my property. I’ve trained with the likes of Larry Vickers and Daniel Shaw. I am a co-founder of Fit to Fight®, a training organization with affiliates in six countries. Since inception, our primary focus has been on unarmed tactics, but a big part of our newest course is armed responses in these events, when possible. I am very pro-gun when it comes to ownership in the U.S. I am very pro-self-defense, in general. I think if more good people would train and carry, we would all be safer.

This is not a gun issue.

Demonstrating a disarm

Demonstrating a disarm during a seminar.
Photo: Ryan Hoover

TRAINING

Depending on the source, police “hits on target” are under 20% in a gunfight. These are people whose lives depend on their training, daily. They have to draw their weapons on a regular basis and are trained to do so under extreme circumstances. Now you have a teacher who is probably as likely to have to draw her weapon as she is to be struck by lightning and attacked by a polar bear on the same day, and if she does, she has kids running all over the place. What do you suppose her success rate might be under those conditions? What are the odds she shoots a child or another teacher?

What sort of firearms training do you expect to get teachers when most school systems aren’t willing to even have a discussion about fighting back unarmed? You want to choose six teachers in a school and train them as you would an Emergency Response Team? In that case, I say let’s go. I will do what I can to make that happen. Having well-trained, armed teachers is a viable response. However, if your solution is to send any teacher who wants to through a simple CCW certification and encourage them to carry inside a school, I am not on board with that. I think if you would ask most experienced shooters and firearms instructors, you would get a similar response.

Demonstration of solo tackle

Demonstration of solo tackle at a recent seminar. Photo: Loren Rodgers

CULTURE

Even though the vast majority of school systems have tepidly adopted run-hide-fight, almost all of them ignore the last part of that mantra. We all know how to run and how to hide; we have since a very young age, when it was encouraged in games. Fighting, while just as natural as the other two, has been mostly dissuaded since childhood. Therefore, very few adults know how to fight, especially in a situation like the one we are discussing, and administrators are by and large unwilling to change this.

Again, do you think firearms training is something that is going to happen for teachers in our current environment? If you want to get them involved in some force-on-force scenarios, where hitting paper at seven yards is not the milepost, and you can get admins and legislators to sign off on it, I say let’s go, but …

Going through unarmed response to an active shooter with teachers.

Going through unarmed response to an active shooter with teachers. Photo: Andre Herbert

REALITY

Ultimately, while I am all for having armed and well-trained staff, I am dealing with the reality that we live in. That reality, at this time, does not only have unarmed teachers, but that reality does not even want a discussion about it. So save your bluster, your bloviating, your grandstanding platitudes, and get with the real world. If you want to actually make schools safer, let’s admit that what is currently being done is grossly inefficient and needs immediate and massive reform. If the culture is not ready for armed teachers, then let’s recognize and acknowledge that. Let’s give them options that might be more palatable to the powers that be and continue working toward a more complete approach to school safety. Let’s recognize that in a study of active shooter events between 2000 and 2013, 13% were stopped by unarmed citizens, while only 3% ended after armed citizens who were not law enforcement personnel exchanged gunfire.

It’s not the existence of the gun that makes everyone safe, just like it’s not the existence of the gun that puts everyone in danger. As long as one side believes the only answer is a gun and this idea of an unarmed response is “stupid,” and the other side insists we should simply “ban all guns” or that we “need more locks/cameras/buzzers,” then absolutely nothing will be accomplished. I am willing to (continue) doing my part. What about you?

By Ryan Hoover

Discussion
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37 Responses to “Realistic Response to Armed Shooters in Schools”
  1. Brian Hall

    I have to say 5 hat your outlook is the best one I’ve heard. While I’may not law enforcement I have family members who are and close friends who are also. I am a cow holder and I also carry all the time except where it is restricted. I carry not for myself but for other’s. I am happy to say that at most (not all) of our area school’students we have armed police officers in our school’students and that I believe is the best option so far. Now we do not have the resources to have one at every school yet. But my hope is that we will at some point. I think you are right on point. Thanks

    Reply
    • Henry Chinery

      Considering the number of police officers shot and killed while talking with people lately. The school resource officer would be the first one targeted by a mass killer attempting to enter a school. So having one officer armed with a gun in a school may not be much of a deterrent at all. But he’s right that the biggest problem is the attitude of the school administration and faculty.

      Reply
  2. Aaron Sydow

    I encourage you and other organizations to contact Greg Martin, the CEO of Shield Solutions in West Plains MO to discuss how his program provides extensive combat handgun training, medical training, and most importantly legal coverage for certain staff members to carry within certain authorized schools within Missouri

    Reply
  3. Paul

    I’ve taught High School and University students. I’m in. Just have three more words for your post: “Bravo” & “Thank you”

    Reply
  4. Jeffery Walke

    I’m with you. I used to be able to go into schools, We taught many different force on force tactics, Now I cant get a door open at a school. Thanks for your work. Jeff, founder SCM selfpreservation

    Reply
  5. Burdette Bolenbaugh

    I totally agree. I work at a posted “gun-free zone”, but carry nearly every day. The “don’t ask, don’t tell.” policy works great in this regard!

    Reply
    • Jim

      Anyone that carries in a Gun Free Zone is asking for major legal problems, should they ever need to use their firearm. They will immediately be considered a criminal just as the “real” criminal will be. ALL State gun laws start with “If the Defendant has not broken any laws….” when discussing any Self Defense Law.

      Reply
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  6. Layton Rosencrance

    Finally some fact based commons sense comments on this situation. We need much more work on realistic practical solutions not just a rush to arm more people.

    Thank you!

    Reply
  7. Johnh

    You are making great points in what you are saying, but I believe that most persons that go to gun free zones are cowards to begin with. How many of the mass shootings were done in a place that was not a gun free zone? The simple fact that there might be an armed person or persons that they may have to encounter will detour most of this type of shootings. The persons that are allowed to carry HAVE to be unknown to all but a select few. Other wise they will be targeted and taken out first. If the shooter has no idea who may be carrying they are less likely to start something in the first place. There should not be such a place as a gun free zone.

    Reply
  8. Chris Sankey

    The tone of this piece was great and completely agree with the over-reaching message.
    I teach two “systems” to help students remember at least a few things from my personal and home defense, permit to Carry classes:
    __S.A.F.E. – Situation | Avoid | Finish | Escape – “finish” being contextual and designates we ARE NOT training to “fight” with an attacker….finish and escape
    __A.I.R.S. – Automatic | Ingrained | Response to | Stimulus – Most know we will revert to our lowest level of training in a high-stress interaction, that level must be effective and ingrained, or forget about it.

    1) Slowly practicing perfect iterations of very boring drills/skills, the FUNDAMENTALS, until near instant “auto-pilot type” response to a threat/stimulus.
    2) Knowing what to do when something does not “feel” right. ie: Deescalate, leave or avoid the situation as quickly as possible.
    3) Non-Verbal Intelligence is vital for understanding communication and is going on in any group setting.
    4) Physiology training so you know what your body is going to do anyway in the event of a high stress encounter.

    Everyone on the planet will “freeze” when a sudden, unexpected threat appears. How long you remain frozen is the variable we can train to reduce. Knowing and working with our innate survival system (reflexes, stress, fear management, instincts…), rather than be caught off guard they took over, is critical to staying safe.

    Our takeaways are uncomplicated: If bad guy wants your “stuff”, let it go. They want you or family, practice, train, and prepare to engage with a Mindset that includes total disregard for your own safety, injury or death. Too many CCW classes tell alot about the Law (which is good) but leave students believing “because you have a gun, 1) you can get to it 2) he stops attacking if you can shoot him. Not true in many cases.

    We fill the “now what” gap if you cannot get to the gun by teaching how to shut down the weapon between the ears, The Mind and Will. Criminals do not want a fight, do not want commotion, do not expect to lose, and are generally cowards. Train accordingly.

    Reply
  9. Lance

    You raise some excellent points, but you still have not described a viable solution.
    You think that unarmed combat against an armed assailant takes less training than effectively defending with a handgun?
    Those same, “school school systems [that] aren’t willing to even have a discussion about fighting back unarmed” are going to train teachers to a level of unarmed combat higher than that of a LEO (who wouldn’t go into an active shooter situation unarmed, in spite of a <20% hit rate)?
    When my grandmother was assaulted, my (US Marine) uncle did not try to teach her KungFu. He gave her a .38 SW with which she shot the S.O.B. when he came back for a second go at her!

    Reply
  10. Bill

    I can see your points however, it’s going to be hard to get teachers to train properly either with unarmed contact or with a weapon. They aren’t going to do anything extra without getting paid and the training would have to be ongoing. It couldn’t stop with a 1 hour lecture. Another thing is there is wireless junk all over the place. How about a button for each teacher to carry that would alert the SROs in the schools also?

    Reply
  11. Geeorge Hadaway

    At the very least teachers need to know situational awareness about there school and be trained to guide there students how to block the door to the classroom, Shooters are lazy and will not waste time and go to another classroom. This can be done like a earthquake drill or something like that this has worked before. Yes I believe more gun the safer we are take care and be safe.

    Reply
  12. Leonard

    Why not put 1-2 trained professionals retired or not in these schools ? Security expert, police officers , or exmilitary . They can find a way to fund that if they really want some kind of protection.

    Reply
  13. Eric Graham

    it’s not the teacher with the gun. It’s the idea that any adult in the school could have a concealed carry permit that would keep the shooter from bringing a gun to school. How many shootings are there where concealed carry is allowed?

    Reply
  14. Winston

    First get ride of the gun free zone signs. Right now everyone knows schools are gun free zones. Training takes time and $$ but if you create the aura that teachers and staff may be armed you will create the unknown. It is concealed carry so even the staff and students won’t know who is armed. Start with the illusion that staff teachers, and others MAY be armed. Concealed carry means just that, concealed. No “wild west” open carry. Maybe a bit of Dirty Harry, Go ahead, make my day posters. I don’t know… but use smoke and morrors give off the aura that “make my day is just around the corner.

    Reply
  15. Roy L. Richards

    I can understand somewhat where you are coming from but those teachers and kids are going through drills so they know what to do when something happens and they close their doors and the kids know where to go to hide so how could the teacher be shooting with kids running every where. Take the one school shooting where the teacher had her kids back against the wall and was standing in front of them to protect them and her and her kids were killed. If she had a gun she could have been close to the door and took down the shooter and he would not have been expecting it and if one of them got hit by friendly fire it would be better than twenty taken down by the enemy and I am not against hand to hand training they both go together for we never know what we are going to face or at what time. Guns are only dangerous in hands that are not trained properly.Keep up the good work though I don’t agree with you fully it is a step in the right direction. Roy;

    Reply
  16. Phil

    I agree with 2 exceptions: “Running towards the gunfire” is seldom found in people outside the US military, much less so amongst LEOs & drastically less amongst citizens. School shootings represent the confluence of liberal policies.Our government pays lip service to the value of human life but capital punishment is all but extinct. It talks about gun violence & the solutions always run to disarming law abiding citizens. Everyone in news & government ignores the fact that NOT ONE SHOOTING has occurred on a college campus which allows CC. These shooters are COWARDS. Most would not take action if there was even a hint that teachers were armed.

    Reply
  17. Ernesto Espinosa

    My comment is I wish I had course like this where I live in Plainfield,Illinois I carry but I would love to take up some kind of training so they might be a time I don’t have to use my gun , you could help me I would appreciate it …

    Reply
  18. Dan Adkins

    When sitting in the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem several years back, a school in the area just let out for lunch break. All the children (about 10 years of age) were in a line, walking through the crowded enclave filled with tourists and Israelis. Leading the class of about 20 children was a young man in his 20s with an AR, in the middle of the kids looked to be the older male teacher with a Colt 45 tucked in the waist band of his pants and following the group was another young man with an AR. That’s how it’s done in Jerusalem.

    Reply
    • Rob Pincus

      “Colt .45 tucked into the waist band” … Seriously? Sounds ridiculous on a couple of different levels…

      Reply
  19. Keith M Sheehan

    I have a CCW, and I’m 73 yrs. old. I’m also a former USAMTU member and a former sniper. I just came back from a 4 day combat handgun training school where I fired almost 1,000 rounds under timed, stressful conditions. When it came time to save a steel hostage from a ‘bad guy’ peeking over his shoulder, I shot the hostage in the ear. O.K. that wasn’t the plan, but I rushed the shot. The hostage would not have been a candidate for any pierced earings, but the bad guy would have been hit directly in the right eye. I’d call it a tie, but the instructors didn’t. Anyway what I’m saying is that, in a crowded setting, weather it be a school, church, movie theater, sporting event, etc. the chances of hitting the bad guy without collateral damage is minimal. I carry because of the possibility of that other, righteous 3% who, except for me and my .45, would have been killed. Why not ask those 3%’ers about CCW’s?! Do you think all of them are grateful? It’s worth it to me to know that I’ll be there tor them and their families. Best regards, Keith M Sheehan

    Reply
  20. Mac Smith

    13% of active shooters were stopped by unarmed citizens. 3% were stopped by armed citizens. What about the other 84%? They generally stop when the shooter kills himself or leaves. Very few are stopped by the police because they get there too late. Very few are stopped by armed citizens because THEY ARE BANNED FROM THE PREMISES. How many of the 3% stopped by armed citizens resulted in bystanders being shot? If an armed teacher can’t stop a shooter, how will an unarmed teacher stop one? You are correct in that training is essential. But, well trained or not, if a shooter is kicking at my classroom door I would rather be waiting behind my desk with my pistol pointed at the door than cowering in the corner.

    Reply
    • Rob Pincus

      “How will an unarmed teacher stop one?” That is what the training provided by this program, SARC and others like them are all about.

      Reply
  21. Terry

    First I would like to say that it’s a good article with a lot of good comments. You are right, someone with a gun that has no training is almost as dangerous as a nut with a gun. I work at a university and hope and pray that I am never in a nut with a gun situation. But if I am ever in a armed shooter situation I hope I have a gun and there is a room full of people with concealed carry weapons that know how and will use them. The more of this type of discussion we have the better.

    Reply
  22. Thomas Howard

    The article seemst factually incorrect, and logically suspect.

    The comments about police training in firearms and their hit ratio being using as scare tactics to say that teachers will shoot kids all the time is just nonsense. This quote: “However, if your solution is to send any teacher who wants to through a simple CCW certification and encourage them to carry inside a school, I am not on board with that.”

    …interesting, considering this author purports to teach self-defense, and if he thinks that daily CCW in public is LESS hectic and more controlled than having a teacher in their own well-known classroom with their own kids under circumstances where an active shooter or other criminal can be easily identified and all safe lines of fire can be easily known—then the author has no idea what he is talking about.

    “If you want to actually make schools safer, let’s admit that what is currently being done is grossly inefficient and needs immediate and massive reform. ”

    Indeed. But then he follows it with something that sums up to “but let’s not make massive reform in the area that will make the most difference, let’s instead work on having teachers be taught something that is much harder to learn, takes much more time to ingrain, to the whole range of teachers many of whom won’t be interested or care (or can’t for physical reasons), and that is simply not nearly as effective.

    “Let’s recognize that in a study of active shooter events between 2000 and 2013, 13% were stopped by unarmed citizens, while only 3% ended after armed citizens who were not law enforcement personnel exchanged gunfire. ”

    …and yet, those stats completely misrepresent the situation. Given that armed responses by non-LEOs is unlikely because the laws don’t allow it in most places, comparing the numbers is meaningless. But if you compare the number of people who were hurt in said situations, you will find that armed responses invariably results in far fewer casualties.

    Overall, this really looks like an article by someone who has an opinion, doesn’t understand the situation, and will use non-related numbers to attempt to make an emotional point that isn’t supported by actual data. Odd that the author’s name doesn’t seem to appear anywhere in the article. Am I missing it somewhere? (Oh, of course, he’s a Krav Maga instructor.)

    The author starts by making the false claim that whenever the subject is brought up, “…the inevitable knee-jerk, uninformed responses are as predictable as a celebrity divorce” and he says that the people saying them won’t listen to anything else. He then follows it by saying those people are completely wrong and he won’t listen to anything that they say.

    Hm.

    People who actually study self-defense know that not everyone has a self-defense mindset. As such, any assumption that everyone can be taught effective self-defense is incorrect. In a similar fashion, people who study self-defense know that in any type of active shooter situation, empty hand defense comes in a far distant second to an armed response, AND that is true when the people having significant amounts of unarmed training.

    Something I wrote the last time our state legislators were discussing allowing teachers to carry in schools:

    Let’s see: active shooter in the school. Choice is a 1) armed teacher with extra training, 2) an armed teacher with basic training, or 3) unarmed victims. Of course we’d pick #1, given that choice—but why in the world do people seem to think that #2 isn’t any better than #3?

    C’mon, folks. People carry in public in the midst of crowds of people they don’t know, in areas they are not familiar with, and are expected to handle it just fine. And they do.

    Teachers, on the other hand, have less-crowded situations wherein they easily recognize the people around them, know their area and surroundings, and where it will be obvious if someone is a bad guy. Where did this “oh, they must have more training!” stuff come from?

    People who CCW in their daily life have it HARDER in terms of situation recognition (and appropriate use of lethal force), an understanding of their surroundings, knowledge of safe directions, and target discrimination (and most likely also target distance). A teacher in their classroom literally has it easier on all of those fronts. At absolutely WORST, it is _only_ “as bad” as it is for CCW carriers in public.

    The author said: “Now you have a teacher who is probably as likely to have to draw her weapon as she is to be struck by lightning and attacked by a polar bear on the same day, and if she does, she has kids running all over the place. What do you suppose her success rate might be under those conditions? What are the odds she shoots a child or another teacher? ”

    …which shows a complete lack of understanding of the situation. Literally.

    “However, if your solution is to send any teacher who wants to through a simple CCW certification and encourage them to carry inside a school, I am not on board with that. I think if you would ask most experienced shooters and firearms instructors, you would get a similar response.”

    I think he’s wrong. And very much so. But then again, what do I know? Oh yes—I know that many, many of the experienced shooters and firearms instructors in my state are completely for the idea, as evidenced by the last poll, surveys, and hearings that were had on the topic.

    Reply
  23. Dennis Dignan

    Our school district has no active shooter plan.any ideas on how I can get them to acknowledge that they should have one?

    Reply
  24. Andrew

    I am a college instructor. I want to change change things related to our cc policy. I have to deal with the reality of school administrators expressed in this piece. Thanks.

    Reply
  25. Keith Webb

    Thank you for telling it like it is. I am a high school English teacher, and I am also coordinating with our executive team (principals, directors, superintendent) on making our schools safer. My first statement to them is exactly what you say: we know how to run and hide, but we’ve been told since we were small children that hitting and fighting are wrong. Thus, we need to train school staff how to engage a shooter in the most effective way possible. I am asking my principal to buy safe improvised weapons that students can use against an intruder (and he is on board with the idea), and we will hold a follow-up training for teachers in August. There’s a probability that I will be presenting to numerous schools in my district to train them in the ‘fight’ component of R-H-F.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing it.

    Reply
  26. Tod Winters

    This is a very good article. One teacher training program I am aware of is called “FASTER Saves Lives”. It is privately funded so any school district in Ohio that wishes to have trained armed staff in their building can send volunteers with current hand gun licenses (CHL) through this program at no training costs to the district or the individual volunteers. One of the news outlets in Ohio did a series of reports one of which they interviewed a school resource officer who was adamantly against non LEO’s being armed in schools. He took the training himself and was going to endorse it to his school district. Schools outside of Ohio have inquired about training or starting training in their states. I can only hope the district my wife subs in has such a policy in place. I have attached a link below.

    http://www.buckeyefirearms.org/faculty-administrator-safety-training-emergency-response

    Reply