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Featured Article: 11-2004



Being an Active Shooter

By:Glenn E. Meyer, PhD


Note: The author was born in New York City and is full professor in the Psychology Department at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.He received his doctorate in 1975 and has written numerous professional articles and books in the areas of visual perception, cognition and statistics.He recently has been studying the influence of weapons type used in defensive gun usages on simulated jury decisions.†† A convert to the world of defensive firearms, he has been an NTI practitioner & has studied with several well known trainers.



I was asked recently by my campus police department if I wanted to take part in an Active Shooter training scenario. The department takes firearms training very seriously and qualifies several times a year.I have shot with them at qualification and also have served on their search committees for new officers and promotions.Of course, I jumped at the chance.I prepared by reading up on ambush techniques and picking the brains of NTI and Insight list folks.


After Columbine and with the threat of terrorism, we now know that containment of threat tactics may not always serve.The officers on the spot may have to deal with, engage and search for an active shooter.For a campus department to train for such is exemplary.


My focus is on what happened and what did we learn from me being an active shooter?Here we go:


First Day:


We ran five teams of three officers each into a nest of what would be offices.Basically the training officer wanted to practice entry.It was moi and another officer as the BGs Ė together or singularly.We had a fully auto paintball gun and a pump paint ball shotgun.Officers had paint ball handguns with numbers of rounds corresponding to their duty load.I never used the fully auto option on the gun.We had sixty rounds.If I were an active shooter, I would have an AR-15 with 30 round mags so the capacity was in line with reality.I would probably have a Glock of some sort as a handgun and a smaller hidden BUG.Thus, I carried an Airsoft backup pistol.


I wore a paint ball vest that simulated body armor.The site was a nest of interconnected officers with cinder block walls (cover), some teller like windows and internal passages.Many of our buildings are like that, with lots of good solid stone or brick cover.We had sound effects of gun shots, fog and screaming people.The responding officers had to enter through a doorway.


What we found out is that if we were aggressive on initial entry we had them.We set up so one person had them on initial fire and the second would get them in a crossfire.The first had an initial covered position or a surprise rush. We eliminated some teams completely.When we pulled back and let them form up, it was mixed.We got in some rounds, took some down and then were eliminated ourselves.


In the last on the first day, I was the lone BG. Discussing this with the training officer, we laid a table across the entry way, a couple of feet into the room, so it was not immediately seen on entry.The idea was produce a fatal funnel.The guys bunched up and I got two before the third responded with rapid fire that drove me back and I took a belly shot and a hand shot.I decided I was down and called it.


All were very positive.Some of them had not had significant FOF and found it very useful.I was declared a good BG.Some of the guys for the next day were SWAT certified and vowed revenge.


Day 2:


On the second day we varied off the entry level ambush. They had enough of that.We did various hostage surrenders, bystanders to be saved, find a nut (moi) who has given up but is in a hidey hole crying (but is still with guns) and other things that they had laid out in the lesson plan.


The last run was an entry for a team (one shift) that had not made entry against opposition.They were told that if they were under significant fire and had no reason to enter, they needed to back off.I was again, the lone madman but was specifically told to be aggressive by the chief.Entering a nest of offices is dangerous.However, the heat of the moment led them to enter.Specifically, the lead officer was annoyed at me because of previous clashes.That made him rash.Again, I set up an obstacle to delay a rapid entry and form another fatal funnel.I shot the first officer and the other two took reasonable cover.They did make a mistake as they forgot a passage way that I could control as they tried to flank me. I flanked them instead.Thus they were eliminated.


Things Learned by Me:


Tactically, I was pleased that my training as a civilian stood me in good stead.Use of angles, cover, aimed fire, backup guns all came to the fore.Shooting over the top of cover (I had to once) gets you shot in the head - ouch.I have to thank my previous FOF experiences with Karl Rehn, OPS, and the NTI for giving me an inner strength to face the attacks.I remember my first run at the NTI.I was sucking air like a bellows and not breathing.In ATSA village, I was vaporized in the bank robbery.Thus, facing repeated intense attacks from the entry teams, I knew I could do it.I remembered to breathe.The stress inoculation of training is incredibly useful.Another point from training is to stay in the fight.I switched hands and guns, ignored painful whacks if it wasnít in a seemingly lethal area.Aggression counts.I came away with a sense that even if faced with several armed opponents, in a life or death struggle, one could prevail or do significant damage to the other side.My ATSA village experience, esp. my teamís debacle in the bank, aided me in this.


What Did the Officers Learn?


The level of training varied. Some of them had SWAT training.Some just had standard LEO training.I think they took away:


1. Use of cover and avoiding the fatal funnel. The inability to get to cover caused many of the teams to have very difficult times.If this yearís NTI participants recall, we had some discussion of shooting at an opponentís knee as it was visible/vulnerable.In one scenario, the officers were engaging my partner and lo and behold there was a knee and inner thigh coming around a door.I remembered my lesson and shot it.


Be prepared to take hits.In training, have a plan to get those who are seriously hit out of the fight.Let the teams deal with causalities and the shock of loss.


2. You really have to identify your targets.I was shot once when I was just a hostage.We had one officer throw open a door and just hose a stream of fire down the hall away as he saw movement.Whistles blew and he was stopped.He was reminded that this was a hostage rescue and he had no knowledge of targets and what was behind what he hit.In fact, he was shooting at nothing.Neither of us was there.


I think some officers needed clarification on the mission of FOF training.Itís not a game where you win by killing the aggressor.A win is having the best outcome from a law enforcement point of view.


3. Learn to negotiate doorways.Some teams pied really well.Others did not. Thatís why this practice was essential for them.One officer crept up to the door of a room that I was in.I saw his long gun muzzle stick way out before I saw his body.I shot the barrel.In another instance, it was discovered that I was in a room behind furniture. Perhaps, verbal contact should have been initiated by the officers from behind cover?However, one officer decided to leap across the door way.He would have been getting a buttocks transplant in real life.I donít think he appreciate the big pink paintball splashes on his tush.He was the guy who later acted rashly.


4. If faced with serious opposition armed with serious guns, do you withdraw and try to contain?We had the equivalent of semi-auto long arms; the officers learned whether it was wise to try to enter or back off and contain the situation. This is an interesting problem after Columbine.Either two of us were set up or one of us. We knew what we were doing.The officers heard what sounded like an active shooter.A couple of teams actually moved quite well tactically, pinned us and contained us.The best were two women officers.


5. The school has unarmed officers.They do parking tickets and the like.They were run through a scenario once. The rationale was that they might be with an armed officer who then gets shot.Should they pick up the officerís gun and stay in the fight?They needed some gun basics: the four rules, use your sights, etc.


6. Leave your ego at the door.One rule of the NTI is NO WHINING.Without going into a long story, one officer who was self-proclaimed as an expert shot and tactician was rudely eliminated as he was the one who acted rashly. Needless to say, he did not take it well and still doesnít several weeks later.There are reasons for such behavior Ė lack of personality strength to be able to learn from oneís mistakes, loss of face and position in a dominance hierarchy or perhaps realizing that he could be so easily killed left him in existential crisis.I found being rudely eliminated at the NTI to be a learning experience but Iím not a self-proclaimed master tactician.Thanks to some NTI members for helping me sort this out.I wonder if training officers should look for such behavior and plan some debriefing.


Better dead in training then being really dead.I certainly learned quite a bit at the NTI seminar from my screw ups.I got blown up by a suicide bomber, shot in the fatal funnel and last took a chestful of Simmunitions from an MP-5 when I stupidly charged out a door.


That hurt.It drew blood as I just had a tee shirt over my fat belly and chest. However, the NTI rules were no whining or egos.One of my team mates caught a Sims round right in his check from that one weird shot the skirted the edge of his mask.Didnít whine.


7. Little things:

a. Flashlight position Ė The FBI hold didnít fool me. Bang

b. Being yelled at by police to surrender was intimidating.

c. Buildings Ė Do architects consider how wonderfully they set up ambushes with all those pillars and passageways? Should they?



To conclude Ė The experience was very useful to me personally.I hope it helped the officers.It does make me worry that with the current attitudes in most of the country; at best officers will be playing catch up when such incidents occur. They will put their lives at risks.In reality, our school can't defend against an active shooter quick enough to prevent 10's of causalities unless it is pure luck that the shooter is spotted on the way in.If the BGís are set and the first responders only have handguns to contend with folks using semi-auto long guns Ė the officers are in for severe difficulty.It is not hard to read about entry techniques and counter them.First responders will have a terrible time if there is any competency in their opponents. Without individuals who are armed, the initial attacks will be killing zones for the BGs.Schools in the USA will never allow armed teachers for various socio-political and liability issues.If serious attacks were planned against schools, it would be a bloodbath.We once had a discussion of the university response to a stalking incident with someone who potentially could be dangerous.We were told bluntly that the institution and risk management experts had calculated that it would be easier to pay off a faculty and family if you took some action against the school for non-protection than to pay off the stalker if he or she sued for harassment or an innocent if you accidentally put a round into such.Most companies have similar policies because of the potential liabilities.It is a philosophical flaw in modern life that one must be a victim.I wish that Presidents, Governors, and legislators of different types might realize that a first line of defense against such actions starts with the armed citizen.It has been shown to be effective in shooting incidents here and abroad.Yes, the one teacher facing a squad is in a difficult situation.Faced with three active shooters, maybe not or at least you can seriously degrade them. Unfortunately, for some politicians, having firearms is about hunting with an O/U shotgun. I donít expect to fight a team of terrorist skeet or geese anytime soon.