Civilian Responses to Active Attackers

It has been a horrible day in Colorado. All we can do is hope for physical and emotional healing for those who lived through the atrocity.

There have been a few rays of hope. Many at the scene acted courageously. Even while some in the national media disgraced themselves, as far as I’ve observed, the Colorado media has so far handled reporting of the story with sober responsibility. As far as I’ve observed, local officials and police officers handled the matter with bravery and professionalism.

The one constructive thing I thought of to do this evening was interview my dad Linn (shown in the photo), who happens to be visiting, about his thoughts on civilian responses to active attackers. My dad has assisted Alon Stivi of Attack Countermeasures Training in various training events in Colorado, the point of which is precisely to teach people how to respond to active attackers.

I thought hard about waiting a few days to release the interview; after all, right now the focus should be on the victims and their families, and doing what we can to help those directly harmed. But then I thought about the possibility of copy-cat crimes, so I decided to release the video now.

A comparison I considered is to flights after 9/11. After that, Americans just decided that they weren’t going to let hijackers have their way, anymore. I frankly think that mindset has done far more than anything TSA has done to deter would-be hijackers. Everybody knows the story of Flight 93. Now that Americans expect hijackers to try to kill them, rather than negotiate for political goals, I think we’ve pretty much decided to do whatever it takes to take down hijackers as quickly as possible.

But there doesn’t seem to have been a similar widespread mental change when it comes to on-the-ground terror. A message at the ACT web site currently states, “Duck and cover does not work. A theater full of people CAN take down a shooter and save lives. More people need to know how to prevent and respond to Active Shooters to prevent future tragedies.” That approach makes a lot of sense to me, and I hope it’s something that individual citizens, as well as law-enforcement agencies, seriously consider over the coming weeks and months. (Please note that ACT has not endorsed or approved the video of my interview with my dad.)

My dad makes several points, including these:

* Obviously if it’s possible to safely leave a dangerous area, do so (as a civilian).

* A group of people can disorient an attacker by pummeling him with objects at hand.

* With appropriate training, a few people near an attacker can take him to the ground and incapacitate him.

None of this is meant as next-day quarterbacking, but rather as an invitation to spend a few moments thinking about possible ways to respond to an active attacker, and perhaps possible ways to obtain additional training on the subject. For a given individual in the normal American context, the chances of ever encountering an active attacker are remote—and this context is worth bearing in mind—but obviously they are not zero.

  • Bil Danielson

    Ari and Linn,

    Thank you for producing this, great and useful information!

  • Dave Bell

    Flight 93 was short-bladed knives.

    This was a man with a gun.

    I think that makes a huge difference, even without the knowledge that those hijackers were going to kill everyone, that there was no escape.

    When you’re trying to stop a man with a gun, it’s kill or be killed.

  • Jim Stevens

    Thanks, this was good information. In the video a TSA developed training course is mentioned. Is there a web site that shows when and where such training is available for civilians?

  • c andrew

    Ari and Linn,

    Thank you for producing this information. Your points about flight 93 and subsequent terrorist attempts and our failure to transfer that mindset to ground based terror attacks are well taken.

    One caveat, though, in phraseology. I find the use of the word civilian, outside of the context of contrasting it with the military, to be problematical. It tends to support the idea that police are para-military when they are not, however much they tend toward that mindset. With the accelerating tendency to militarize our police forces, we should point out that the police are actually citizens too.

    c. andrew