The right stuff: Responding to an active shooter with limited manpower
By Frank Borelli
When a situation gets ugly, you know you have work to do. The question is, do you have the tools to do it? Choosing the right weapons and ammunition will help make every second count. Being properly armed and outfitted is especially critical if you're short on manpower — you'll need all the help you can get.
I recently received an email inquiry from an officer who works an extremely rural area and has limited manpower available for an active shooter response. Having read several articles on the subject, he asked, “Hey; what about those of us who might only have one or two officers to respond at all?” His question started me thinking and I opened a discussion on this topic in a couple of online forums I participate in.
I was amazed at the commitment shown by the respondents, who put the immediate response first and foremost. The gentleman who sent the original email said (paraphrased), “I have no realistic hope of getting four officers on the scene in anything less than an hour. I’m not going to stand around safe outside and wait. I’m going to take what I’ve got and go do what is called for.”
One of the posts went like this: “Lastly, if you can’t have as many [officers] as you need, man up and go anyway. If all you have is two, two it is. One, OK. One trained now is much, much better than 20 an hour from now.”
Put in a slightly different way, this from another responder: “Remember, each and every round they send in your direction is a round that they did not put into some innocent victim’s head.”
Another comment that I felt was very important and insightful, even if not eloquently worded was: “Screw public perception... I would rather look too aggressive and save the lives of innocent men, women and children than be under prepared and have those lives lost.”
Now that we understand the extreme dedication that has to be the point-of-view we work from, let’s take a look at how to prepare and equip to deal with such an ugly situation.
From here forward, I’m assuming that most law enforcement professionals go on duty with some semblance of the following:
- A primary duty handgun: in 9mm, .40S&W, .45ACP, .357Sig, 10mm, or other decent fighting round. This does not include .380ACP, .25ACP, or anything in .22.
- Plenty of ammunition. One thing that becomes abundantly clear is that having plenty of ammo is imperative. Resupply is problematic at best, and running out is just plain unacceptable. The average cop is most likely carrying a handgun fully stoked and two back up magazines. In a Government Model 1911 .45ACP that’s only 22 rounds; in a Glock 22, that’s 46 rounds; a Glock 17 equates to 52 rounds and a Beretta 92F (M9) is 46 rounds. While I know plenty of people who believe that 9mm is not powerful enough when facing multiple opponents, would you rather have 22 rounds of .45ACP’ or 52 rounds of 9mm? The answer is one that you have to be happy with.
- A back up gun, where authorized. For a lot of people this is a Chief’s Special, 5-shot .38 Special. For others it’s a pocket-sized semi-auto (.380ACP, like a Walther). For others still, this is a downsized version of their duty gun: where the duty gun is a Glock 17, the BUG is a Glock 26. They use the same magazines and can shoot the exact same ammo. Functionality is identical. To my way of thinking, this is optimal.
- A good knife, or knives. Heaven forbid the fighting becomes a hand-to-hand issue, however, I’d rather have two good folding lockblades than no edged weapon at all. One is better than none. They don’t have to be fixed blades and they don’t have to be huge. I’m not referring to the stuff that will scare your chief executive officer into a liability coma. However, if you can, carry a decent fixed blade knife.
- Flashlight(s). Parts of every structure can be dark if the power is out. Take the light with you, twice. After all, it’s only your ass on the line.
All right, we know there is plenty of stuff every law enforcement officer carries that I have not listed. Things like handcuffs, OC spray, utility tools, rubber gloves, etc. Why did I leave these out? Because in a close quarters shooting battle, what do they matter? I’ve never heard the words “affect an arrest” used in active shooter training. Active shooter response is about an aggressive and violent response to an aggressive and violent action. “Drop your gun or I’ll shoot,” isn’t an option. Shoot. Stop the threat. Handcuffs are for after the shooter is down and incapacitated. OC spray? Maybe as a distraction when you’re at the hand-to-hand fighting position. Rubber gloves? Assuming a “holy cow, everything has gone to hell in a handbasket” active shooter scenario, rubber gloves won’t be enough to keep the blood off you.
A Long Gun: Shotgun, Carbine or Rifle
The carbine is certainly better than going in with only a handgun. It will increase your accurate shot placement distances out to between 50-100 yards; farther if you practice. Still, let’s be realistic: this is a long barrelled handgun. The added range is excellent; the increased accuracy at distances less than 50 yards is magnificent; but this is not a weapon that will penetrate body armor or deliver disabling hits on body armor. In this vein, I like the idea of the Beretta CX4 carbine, used in combination with the Beretta PX4 pistol. Since they are the same caliber, they use the same magazine, making it easier to carry extra loads for both weapons.
If I have to go into an active shooter situation, my preference for long gun is:
- Rifle: with a minimum of six 30-round magazines;
- Shotgun: With an extended mag tube, six on the side shell holder; and as many more as I can carry in my pockets;
- Carbine: With all the appropriate magazines I can carry.
All law enforcement officers should be wearing body armor. Level III is quite common in normal duty cases, but what about going into a known high-risk high-threat area? Upgraded body armor and/or plates are required. Remember, “Every bullet fired at you is one less fired into a victim.” How many rounds can you absorb? You–not so many. Good armor–more. For this reason I recommend having a response vest in your cruiser that incorporates another layer of armor and/or plates. That same vest can hold your extra rifle magazines and extra handgun magazines. I recommend the Rapid Deployment Body Armor Bag. It’s my understanding that P.A.C.A. is now manufacturing that bag. Check it out.
Below are some direct quotes from posts in response to my questions:
“Bulk up your reserve unit. ...tell them they are only going to assist with school shootings.”
“See if there can’t be a better multi-jurisdiction response.”
“Find some teachers who are willing to take the step of getting trained. At least they can pick up a dead enemy’s gun to get in the fight with.”
“Response needs to be intelligence driven. Dispatch needs blueprints of the schools to assist in the officers’ response.”
“Get a map of the school(s) and grounds, or make one if you have to, and keep it someplace you’ll have it (in your vest?).”
“Train. Re-Train. Train some more. Train to shoot headshots at varying distances and know the capabilities of your weapon and your marksmanship.”
“...you can clear a building with two people. Of course it has to be trained and rehearsed and rehearsed. We use weekends and school holidays for this.”
“The big shootings you hear about with multiple deaths all have one thing in common: Nobody tried to stop them. To me, this argues for fast and violent counter action. Interrupt the plan.”
Remember... If not me, then who?
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