In a Mass Shooting, Should You Attack?

Last week at Umqupa Community College, former Army veteran Chris Mintz placed himself between the shooter and others and was shot multiple times. Although he is credited with saving the lives of several people who were able to escape, he ultimately did not stop the shooter or the deadly rampage. After the massacre - which claimed nine lives - Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson was quoted as saying "Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me," Carson said. "I would say, 'Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can't get us all.''

So should you engage the shooter? The answer is definitely not.

Research conducted by the Community Safety Institute on 73 mass shootings occurring over the past 35 years shows that only in rare circumstances do people who are not trained law enforcement officers successfully engage the shooter. In just three cases unarmed civilians swarmed the attacker and disarmed him, including the Gabby Gifford attack, but in all instances the shooter was no longer actively shooting. In the vast majority of incidents when citizens have attempted to engage the shooter, they were injured or killed themselves.

In regard to the second part of Dr. Carson’s comment, “he can’t get us all,” in a majority of the mass shootings in this country the killer is armed with numerous weapons and multiple magazines loaded with dozens of rounds of ammunition. In last week’s attack the killer was armed with three semi-automatic handguns and one rifle. He wore body armor and was carrying five extra magazines loaded with ammunition. If unarmed students engaged the shooter, the body count could have been exponentially higher.

So what should you do?

As soon as you hear gunfire or explosions, quickly get as far away as possible and call 911. If you can’t safely flee, use trees, vehicles, or even a parking lot curb as cover from the attack and do not return to the location under any circumstance. Exiting the location is the single best survival tactic.

If you are in a confined area such as a classroom, office, or movie theater and cannot safely exit or find cover, get behind anything that will stop bullets such as a large copier, a vending machine, a building support beam, or a heavy desk.

If there is no cover available, find concealment - anything that will keep you out of the shooter's line of sight. Mass shootings occur very quickly and if the shooter can’t see you in a closet, behind a curtain, in a cabinet, or outside behind a bush, your chances for survival go up dramatically.

Finally, playing dead or hiding under a fallen colleague has also worked effectively in many past incidents, including last week. Mass shootings are usually very dynamic and fast moving events and after spraying a room with gunfire, the shooter rarely checks each victim to ensure they are dead.

No one wants to find themselves in a mass shooting event but knowing what to do (exit, cover, concealment), and how to do it (quickly, safety and with resolve), will increase your chances of survival significantly.


John Matthews is a thirty-year law enforcement veteran and award winning writer. He is a contributor to numerous public safety publications and the author of Mass Shootings: Six Steps for Survival, School Safety 101, Neighborhood Watch 101, Creating A Safer School and the co-author of The Eyeball Killer, a first-hand account of his capture of Dallas’ only serial killer.