To what extent should ordinary citizens become involved in stopping violent crime and terrorism?
This question has become more relevant in the age of what the police call the active shooter. For decades, law enforcement agencies, particularly big city police departments, have urged residents not to become involved, give robbers what they want, don’t fight back, call 911. According to John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center, people who resist criminals with a gun are more likely to survive unscathed than those who do not resist at all. There are now more than 14 million U.S. residents who have licenses to carry handguns for self-defense.
However, while complying with the demands of a robber may keep you alive, it certainly will not keep you safe from a terrorist or mentally deranged gunman intent only on killing as many victims as possible before law-enforcement officers arrive on the scene.
Cathy Lanier, then chief of the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, acknowledged this in an interview in November 2015 on “60 Minutes.” She told Anderson Cooper that most of the killing in active shooter incidents happens in the first 10 minutes. The response time of her department is likely to be between five and seven minutes, she added.
“If you’re in a position to try and take the gunman down, to take the gunman out, it’s the best option for saving lives before police can get there. And that’s kind of
counterintuitive to what cops always tell people, right? We always tell people, ‘Don’t take action. Call 911. Don’t intervene in the robbery.’ We’ve never told people, ‘Take
Action,’ This is a different scenario.”
Unfortunately, Lanier’s hypocritical slip was showing. Despite her call for ordinary citizens to take down an active killer, she had deliberately deprived those citizens of the best weapons to do that. According to Fox News, between October 2014 and November 2015 requests for 233 concealed handgun permits had been received by the Metropolitan Police Department and 185 of them had been denied. This is an 80 percent rejection record. Ms. Lanier had final say on which permits were approved.
In early December 2015, a husband and wife team of radical Muslim terrorists hit a county social services building in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people and wounding 21. By the time the police arrived and entered the building, the terrorists had escaped.
Time is everything in these active killer incidents. Ron Borsch, a retired Ohio police officer and firearms trainer has a database dating back to 1975 of almost 200 mass shooting incidents in the U.S. and abroad. He says that the average active killer will kill or wound between four and five people a minute. So waiting to be rescued by law enforcement officers is not a good option.
After San Bernardino, many sheriffs urged their residents to get concealed carry permits and arm themselves. Sheriff Wayne Ivey of Brevard County in Florida addressed several hundred people at the Gun Rights Policy Conference in September.
He said that in active-shooter incidents, law enforcement will always arrive too late and that ordinary citizens are the first line of defense.
“While the cavalry is coming, we’re running Mach 2 with our hair on fire, trying to get there to help. But you’re there, you are already on scene and you have to either eliminate or neutralize the threat until we can get there,” Sheriff Ivey said. The number one responsibility of government is to protect its citizens. “The best way that I can protect you is to prepare you to protect yourself,” he said.
Sheriff Ivey has instituted an eight-hour training program for his residents. He said it was booked up for a year. There are hundreds of firearms instructors around the country who teach self-defense courses for ordinary citizens. However, even unarmed citizens have successfully brought some of these incidents to an end. Three young Americans onboard an Amsterdam to Paris in August 2015 and high school student Jake Ryker in Springfield, Oregon, in 1998 come to mind.
Of course, even those citizens who take responsibility for their own safety, may be disarmed because they happen to be in a so-called Gun-Free Zone. “Gun-Free Zones” aren’t; they are only free of law-abiding citizens with the best means of self-defense.
Run, hide, fight is a mantra that is finally being adopted by officialdom including the Department of Homeland Security. But which of those options you choose will depend on your circumstances: whether you can escape, whether you are armed, the state of your training, and above all, your mindset. It is going to be a very personal decision.
• Chris Bird was an officer in the British Army and served in the Royal Military Police. He is the author of “Surviving a Mass Killer Rampage: When Seconds Count, Police Are Still Minutes Away” (Privateer Publications, 2016).
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