Defending yourself against a spree killer like the one in Aurora, Colorado

by Jeff Thomas

Before I share some thoughts on how to survive a spree killer situation such as the one in Aurora, Colo., last week, I think it's important to talk about one piece of information I'm hearing likely is true: The Century 16 movie theater where 12 were killed and 59 wounded by a heavily armed man in a "no-gun" zone.

Obviously the "no-guns" sign did not stop the murderer. And just as obvious, all the restriction did was create a target-rich environment for a dedicated man intent on killing innocent people. Businesses that choose to remove guns from the hands of the good guys do nothing but assure the dedicated killer he will not receive return fire, at least not until police arrive. But as we all know, that's usually too late. Unfortunately, police usually arrive in time to process the crime scene, not save lives.

It's time we take a strong stance and work to encourage businesses to remove the "no-guns" signs and allow law-abiding people to carry inside. Talk to business owners to explain our side to them. Those who choose not to, and it's a business owner's right, we can simply choose to leave and take our business elsewhere.

With that said, the mass shooting in Aurora spurred a lot of talk this weekend. I have had some conversations with friends on how to defend one-self in such a situation. For the sake of this article, we will assume you did go to the theater that night and were allowed to take your gun inside.

I've heard some say a situation like this would be indefensible, citing reports that the attacker had superior firepower, body armor, smoke grenades or tear gas and the element of surprise.

Well, I don't buy that argument. Sure, it's a tough fight and it may cost you your life. But I'm sure you believe your life or the life of a family member is worth fighting for. We can't always pick the situations we're in no matter how hard we try to live in a safe way but we can fight in hopes of prevailing.

The first part of a good defense is being aware of your surroundings. This means picking your seat, not for the best view but for the best defensive spot. When the shooting begins, the mission is survival. You will have two real choices: escape or fight. In a stadium-style-seating movie theater, it's nearly impossible to duck or hide. Playing dead and hoping the shooting stops is a gamble I'm not willing to take.

Where you sit also plays a role in how you fight the attacker. Sitting several feet away changes the ballgame compared to being in the upper deck of the theater 100 feet away. It also means if you choose to try to escape, you may have to fight your way out.

While it may not seem so, you likely will have a tactical advantage with all the screaming and people trying to find cover or escape. The spree killer is seeing hundreds of people in pandemonium. This is your chance to fight but you must be quick, exact and prepared in the execution of your plan. That's why knowing how you want to react and training yourself to have those skills must be practiced over and over.

Someone close to the killer has several tactics he or she can employ. Considering the attacker is in body armor, most would say that means headshots. Yes and no. A shot to the face would stop the man, but hitting a moving target during total chaos will prove hard.

This is where it's important to have a gun that fits you as well as possible and holds as many rounds as possible, such as 15 in the magazine. Even though the Colorado murderer wore body armor, shots to the body will slow him down and perhaps momentarily stop him.

The energy behind the bullet will have some effect. This result will buy you time to take the well-placed head shot. You also may be able to shoot the weapon to disable it. Another tactic could be a barrage of bullets at the active killer to suppress him as you move to tackle him.

Some may question moving toward a heavily armed man but again you have the tactical advantage. A man in full body armor that includes ballistic leggings, a vest, ballistic sleeves, helmet, groin and neck protectors, and a gas mask will not be moving fast. He also will have trouble fighting hand-to-hand.

Someone farther away, such as in the upper deck, may not be able to get to the attacker and will have to rely on head shots to the face to take out the attacker. Center-of-mass shots may slow the attacker down, but ultimately it will be a head shot that stops him.

In either situation, it will be important to move as fast as possible, but in a stealthy way, to keep the gunman from turning toward you as you take aim. It's also important to act fast, given the murderer threw tear gas. If it's close to you, the tear gas could disable you or make it hard to fight. If it's some distance from you, you will have more time but the gas eventually will make it to you and have some effect.

The responses I describe will include advanced tactics and take practice to achieve. This means practicing often and receiving training. Just obtaining a concealed carry license is only the beginning of personal protection.

I hope that none of us will ever be put in this situation. But if something like this does happen, you must be prepared. You must have a gun, employ good tactics and stop the threat before the threat stops you. Preparedness is key. You could face a similar scenario or something different in another setting. What you will have to figure out and be prepared for is how to fight in any situation, no matter how dire it may seem.

Jeff Thomas is a concealed carry instructor, NRA certified firearms instructor and a competitive shooter.

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