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How To Distinguish Yourself From The Gunman During A Mass Shooting Event


In the most recent high-profile mass shooting event at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, we now know there was at least one concealed carrier on campus also present.  The concealed carrier was advised to not advance the 200 yards to where he heard the shots being fired.  The major distinction being that it would be difficult for law enforcement to identify him as a non-hostile shooter.

Did school officials have a point?  Is there a chance you’ll be incorrectly ID’d by law enforcement in a school shooting event and end up taking fire?

It hasn’t happened yet (to our knowledge).  If you know of such an event, please post it down in the comments section below and we’ll definitely look into it.

In the Umpqua Community College case, it took law enforcement all of five minutes to locate the shooter.  The shooter, realizing he was facing other armed people and not just unarmed bystanders, quickly chose the easy way out and shot himself.

Seeing a trend?

1. Coward with a gun opens fire.
2. Runs into first armed resistance (LEO or otherwise).
3. Retreats if possible or takes his own life.

In very rare circumstances, the shooter is captured alive.  That seems to be not the norm.

As concealed carriers, we have to take several factors into account before engaging shooters.  In a lot of these events, the concealed carrier may be nowhere near the actual event taking place.  Two hundred yards and an adjacent building?  Yes — that’s a bit too far.  Not only would you be treading across open ground, your firearm is drawn and you definitely look out of place from the crowds attempting to flee the scene or shelter in place.

Even if that concealed carrier on the campus of Umpqua had been fast enough to bolt over to the other building, he would have likely ran smack dab into law enforcement who were already en route.  Those guys don’t know what the situation is.  All they know is that shots are fired and it’s time for them to earn their pay — the hard way.

We can go ahead and dispense with the pleasantries: the second an active shooting situation occurs, it’s now a combat environment.  Forget what you think you know about how ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ are supposed to act and focus on the following things:

  • 1.  Secure YOUR Area

When shots ring out, your first job is to secure shelter and adequate cover.  Unless the shots are extremely close, it’s often difficult (if not impossible) to positively identify (PID) a potential shooter.

The best thing you can do is get those around you to do the same.  Let them know you’re there to help protect your area and if they decide to bolt, that’s on them.  You’re not responsible for their lives.  You’re responsible for your own.  Good guy points only get tallied when the day is over and done with.  Right now, you’re just there alongside everyone else for the free popcorn.

  • 2.  Identify Yourself Immediately To Law Enforcement

In a mass shooting scenario, law enforcement are going to be clearing every inch of that ground from top-to-bottom.  If they spot you with a gun, most good police officers will issue you a very stern, possibly not-so-nice warning to drop the gun.

  • 3.  Comply Without Hesitation

If you see them before they see you, you need to call out and let them know you’re a concealed carrier.  They will probably tell you to get on the ground alongside everyone else and then they’ll break off to verify your status.  Don’t be a hero.  Don’t attempt to act out of line.  Nobody has brass balls in a gunfight and every police officer and law enforcement agent moving through that area will likely have their fingers very close to those triggers.

  • 4.  Give Up Your Intel

If you think you’ve got PID on the shooter, report that information immediately to law enforcement in the area.  Even if you’re face-down on the pavement getting checked out by a police officer who’s more nervous than you are, make sure you get your facts straight — concise, clean, no speculation.  Just report what you’ve observed and nothing else.

Chances are good that after law enforcement has reached you, they will probably briefly detain you until they can verify that you’re not the active shooter and you’re legally where you’re supposed to be.  State and Federal laws will decide a lot of that but how you present yourself to law enforcement will go a long way in ensuring they have reason to believe you’re not the problem.

Good.  We got that covered.  Now, in the extremely unlikely but not altogether implausible scenario you’re in fighting range of an active shooter, just remember — every bullet that leaves the chamber of your gun will be accounted for.

Make Sure Every Shot Is Judiciously Placed

This is an “easier said than done” situation.  You’re nervous.  Your heart is beating like a bass drum and your hands are going to be shakey.  If there’s other people running around, you need to make sure the fundamental principles of firearm safety are applied.

This may mean taking no shots and innocent lives being lost as a potential result.

The reality is, if you decide to open fire and your bullets stray and strike other bystanders — you’re now indistinguishable from the active shooter.   You’ve just turned that firefight into a s***show.   You are now as much of a threat as the idiot who decided it was a good idea to shoot up a place.

To give yourself the best possible advantage, take cover and use a supported firing position to ensure your bullets have the best chance of getting on target.  Don’t pull the trigger until you’re sure.  Make sure you know what’s in front of and directly behind your target.  Don’t aim at anything you do not intend to destroy.

If you beat law enforcement to the scene and are able to neutralize the shooter, don’t assume he’s dead because he hit the ground.  Keep him in your sights and keep yelling out that you’re a concealed carrier.  An example:

“I’m a concealed carrier.  Do not shoot.”

When law enforcement arrive, let them do the hard work of advancing on the shooter.  He’s down but he may not be dead.  It’s not your job to secure anything.  Scan your situation.  Make sure there are no other shooters active in the area.  Now go back to that beginning 4 steps, starting with “secure your area” and work your way down until law enforcement take over.

About James England | View all posts by James England

James England is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has served as a defense contractor in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His daily concealed carry…

James England is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has served as a defense contractor in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His daily concealed carry handgun is a Glock 36 in a Lenwood Holsters Specter IWB or his CZ-75D PCR in an Alien Gear MOD holster.

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  • Mruss

    “Secure your area”. That’s the key. You can’t try to be a hero and intervene even if it’s reasonably possible. You must ONLY protect yourself and your loved ones /friends and those immediately around you. That’s it. The gun laws in this country are way too stacked against the law abiding gun owner to act in any other way. And yes, this means innocents will die who otherwise may not have. That blood is on the hands of Obama, Holder, Clinton, Bloomberg, Fienstein, Harris and all the other anti-gun tyrants who deny our 2A rights.

  • Sarah Phillips

    Make sure you KNOW your target and what is beyond. DO NOT shoot unless you can do so without hitting an innocent bystander or bystanders. It’s a very hard decision to make in the chaos of an active shooting situation, but remember If you hit an innocent bystander you are as responsible as the active shooter.

  • Jay Miller

    Taking into account that most concealed carry holders are not extremely well trained (unlike the writer who seems to be very well trained) is to keep that gun put up. The best plan of action for concealed carriers is to pull the weapon as soon as you can identify the threat and take him out.

    Otherwise you will be yelling “I’m a concealed carry holder” while ur lungs fill up with blood from the officer that just shot you. They are not going to be taking a survey if they see someone not in uniform with a gun, chances are 50/50 you are going to get ur @$$ shot.

    Respectfully Submitted,

    13 yr LEO vet

    • Gregg T Jenkins

      Oh please!!! we spend more time on the range in a year than you do in your entire career. We also seek out additional training as often as we can, while LEO’s do what is required to maintain their cert. Get off your high horse LEO, You’ll get a nose bleed.

      • Jeff Klein

        Your broad brush is bullshit.

        • Gregg T Jenkins

          If it was, than the police wouldn’t have nation wide miss avg of 88% (meaning they miss 88% of the time.) And the miss avg of a civilian carrier would be much more than the 6% that it currently is.

          • ste8875

            It seems that you use a lot of generalities. So what you are saying is that the average citizen who owns a firearm is better trained and will only miss 6% of the time. I call bullshit on that. Maybe the top 5% of civilian shooters have a 6% miss ratio. I am in law enforcement and the training depends on the police dept. I shoot over 1000 rounds a month of actual constructive firearms training, not just throwing rounds down range. I have attended 3 shooting schools this year. The average civilian shooter shoots on a range in near perfect conditions with eyepro, earpro, AC, exhaust vents. If the average shooter had to nearly run down a hallway of a school or office building to the sounds of gunfire while bypassing all of the wounded people with blood every where, kids screaming, scanning everybody because they may be the shooter with adrenaline and your heartbeat going through the roof, they may also miss more than 6%. Just how many active shooters have you responded to Gregg?

          • Gregg T Jenkins

            1 shooter, and 3 with knifes. How many have you?

      • Doug Packer

        Having shot with a lot of police officers, Gregg is right. I shoot 2,000 rds a month and have shot with many officers, very few of which are any good with a gun.

    • James England

      Yeah, that’s certainly a frightening reality. Worse than overcoming the actual anxiety of combat itself is realizing that the guys coming to the rescue aren’t looking at you like you’re a good guy. A lot of this plays out on a case-by-case basis. We all hope to avoid needless tragedies should we find ourselves in this type of event.

  • RamRoddoc

    Armed citizens shoot/kill more criminals and less bystanders than trained police officers. We know as absolute truth the quicker an active shooter is engaged with an armed response the less lives lost.

    Learned helplessness and trained ignorance will not serve our nation well. The faculty at Umpqua Community College contributed. But not in a positive role. How many lives could have be saved?
    200 yards is not that far and can be covered in about a minute +/- by most (record is less than 20 seconds). And as noted “you are in range”.

    Evil is never overcome by cowering and running from it.

  • Aaron Cohen

    Great article. I’m a former SOF operator and now train law enforcement in active shooter response. Everything James wrote here is on point. I believe properly trained CCW holders can be a great force multiplier to the active shooter threat across the U.S. This is very similar to how we respond in Israel. If you’re going to respond you need to be identifiable. Not to be a whore but have a look at my new (and the worlds first) Active Shooter Tactical Response Covert Shirt. It’s designed specifically for friendly-fire avoidance and would have enabled that armed vet to reduce overall risk had he decided to respond.

    Cherries Active Shooter Tactical Response Covert Shirt

    Aaron Cohen

    • Ari Maas

      Being a Leo for a large agency – I have had my fair share of training in active shooter. I agree with Aaron – identification is key and from the looks of his website – the shirts may fit the bill. In these situations we are all bound to get tunnel vision so being indenifiable is instrumental. For both off duty Leo’s and ccw holders.

    • John Parker Jr.

      I hope to get one of these shirts as soon as possible-> see my post above

  • Michael Stump

    As a Private Citizen who’s concerned for the well-being of his Countrymen (Even the idiots screaming for Gun-Control)
    I found this to be very informative and educational, tacking hard facts with logic and reasoning.

    But, in all seriousness. If you do conceal, don’t go hunting for trouble or try to intervene when it’s not needed. It’s a good way to get f*cked up or dead. Train, Educate, Adapt and Survive.

    Be safe out there.

  • Gregg T Jenkins

    For the love of Leroy, shout “FRIENDLY!!! FRIENDLY!!!” Not “I’m a Concealed Carrier!” Shouting Friendly is shorter, more effective, easier to remember, and much less likely to get you shot.

  • ZombieReady

    As a concealed carry holder, I would first run, if that option were safe and available, unless, I was with friends or family that could not safely get out of the situation. I could care less about being a hero and trying to defend strangers, many of whom are anti gun. They should take care of their own defense. If the run option were not available, I would find a place to take cover and defend. Most of these cowards will go on to easier, unarmed targets if they simply know you are armed, as has been proven in many cases. Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes. Running into an active shooter situation with a handgun, against a maniac armed with a rifle is a death sentence. This guy in oregon, who wanted to go help, is probably alive because he was denied entry. Lets be honest, by the time the cops or swat team arrive, the fight is usually over. As the cops arrive, I would conceal my weapon, wait for them to clear the area, and if they check you out, which they will, tell them you have the gun. I would not drop the gun, as they may mistake this as an indication you are one of the bad guys. Multiple shooters, or terrorist are another story. In this situation you may have to be much more aggressive to save your life. It may involve trying to kill one of the bad guys and take his weapon. This is why I think it wise to be familiar with different types of guns, such as ar15s and ak47s, and all types of shotguns. If you manage to kill a terrorist with an AK and then are unable to take it off safety, or reload, it will be of little use. The best offense is a good defense. Always be aware of your surroundings is the best way to not become a victim.

  • Pod

    The biggest thing I’ve been told by LEO and instructors alike is if you have to draw in a situation where confusion as to who the shooter is could be likely, your best bet is to do what you have to (shoot/don’t shoot) and then holster your firearm and communicate loudly that you aren’t the threat. This goes for all shootings, not just the rare school shooting. Self-defense on the street – same deal. Shoot (or not), holster, shout out that you are the good guy when the cops show up.

    I like what one guy below said – shout out “Friendly!” – simple and easy to remember. Running around with your firearm drawn is the easiest way to get shot. I’d fathom if you weren’t currently engaging the threat and LE shows up, you should holster and get out of the way.

  • Jack Mahoghof

    The best advice is keep your gun hidden until it’s time to go to work. Then when you’re done, put it away. This way your exposure of being seen with a gun in your hand is minimized.

  • John Parker Jr.

    I was that conceal carrier and I am glad to see this article.
    However, I was the one who decided that I would likely be indistinguishable from a hostile if LE were already on seen.
    I started the discussion yesterday on campus to have new, current and future concealed carriers meet monthly (and voluntarily) in a peer support fashion, to keep these and other ideas fresh in the mind, should another “unlikely” event occur.
    Nobody needs to be a hero, but when you are defending yourself, defense of others in sometimes in coexistence.

    • Nathan Hughes

      Proud of you for carrying concealed. I was in the navy so we probably had the same amount of tactical training (not much). If i were in your shoes, i probably would have done the same thing as you. If i were in the same building however, i think i would have been able to do more.

  • Hink

    This article raised a question in my mind. What if more than one concealed carrier were to converge? How do I know the other guy is a CC and not the shooter? I do not want to shoot another good Samaritan. I would think as more people choose to CC that a situation like this is likely to come up, and potential bad guys could use it as a tool to get the drop on a CC. I think the best option as a CC in this situation is as the article says “secure your area”. The only intel you will have is in your immediate area anyway, so it is best to act on that. Being a CC does not mean you go looking for a fight, it means you can defend yourself and possibly those around you.

    • Nathan Hughes

      You can tell a lot by their stance. They will probably look like you. In the hall pressed up against the wall with two sweaty hands on your gun.
      The active shooter, however, will probably be busy shooting people.