Lessons from Aurora, Colorado theater shooting

In reading some of the accounts of the survivors of the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting there are multiple lessons the armed citizen can take away from them to help be better prepared should you find yourself in a similar situation.

Let’s take a look at some of the statements made and accounts printed in the news to see what can be learned.

The suspect [James Holmes] marched up the aisle in the stadium-style theater, picking off those who tried to flee, witnesses said.

I’ve read this account multiple times and there are several explanations. Holmes may have been focusing simply on keeping as many people from escaping as possible. Or, like a cowardly dog, he was most willing to attack when the victim’s back was turned. Along those lines, and based on the body armor he was wearing, he was most fearful of an armed response and was watching for threats to himself. Fleeing victims could be safely engaged.

In this case the best course of action for an armed citizen would be to remain still until an opportunity for a counter-attack presented itself. For example, when the shooter turned to engage a fleeing victim there would be a reduced risk of return fire while attempting to subdue the threat. Your incoming fire would also have the likely effect of distracting his attack and facilitating escape for the victims.

Holmes, used a military-style semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a pistol, stopping only to reload.

While low light would have made it difficult to determine what Holmes was doing, a pause in gunfire and the sound of a reload might make then a good time to attack. Depending on his skill, though, there might only be a few brief seconds to engage.

[Aurora Police Chief Dan] Oates said the gunman wore a gas mask and a ballistic helmet and vest, as well as leg, groin and throat protectors.

The body armor would have made it very difficult to get stopping hits on Holmes, but it might not have mattered. Since he surrendered without incident is is likely that numerous rounds slamming into his vest, helmet, and visor would have been enough to make him flee or at least distract him enough to allow more people to escape and slow down the engagement to give the police more time to respond.

“I didn’t think it was real,” [Jennifer] Seeger said. She said she was in the second row, about four feet from the gunman, when he pointed a gun at her face. “I was just a deer in headlights. I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

Being stunned into inaction is a common occurrence when confronted with extreme violence. Despite what the media attempts to portray, it really isn’t all that common and most people go their entire lives without facing a deadly threat. Being prepared and having the mindset that bad things do happen to good people can help you to shave precious seconds off beginning your response. If you know what to do and are trained what to do, your body will just start to do it until your brain has a chance to catch up.

Holmes is also believed to have hurled a gas canister into the theater before opening fire.

It has not yet been officially announced whether the substance used was smoke, tear gas, pepper spray, or another substance but it would certainly complicate an armed response. If a chemical irritant and you were close enough to be exposed, you might have a very difficult time engaging. If smoke, it would combine with the darkness to make it even harder to hit the attacker. A flashlight in the darkness could help or hinder. It would make it easier to see the attacker but might draw his fire. If smoke was used, the smoke could reflect the light and make it harder to see instead of easier. Regardless, in the darkened theater having illuminated sights on your firearm would be a help.

A young family’s last-minute decision to sit in the balcony may have saved their lives in the “Dark Knight” movie massacre…Though the couple had planned to sit in the front of the theater by the exit through which a gunman later entered, they decided instead to sit in the second-floor veranda.

It can be hard to govern your life by what is the best tactical location in any given room, and the best location may very well be determined by the source of the threat. If you’re on the right side of the theater and the shooter is on the right side, you’ve got a problem. If he’s on the left side, though, you may be in a position to quickly escape. For these people, being in the balcony was a safe location for them. Had the shooter been in the balcony, it would not have been.

Personally, I don’t like to be in a position where I’m trapped from reaching an exit or cover/concealment. In a theater, for example, I tend to move a few rows up and sit towards the center giving some cushion for response time and equal opportunity to move left or right depending on need.

Matt McQuinn’s last living act was to shield his girlfriend from the hail of bullets sprayed by the gunman behind the Aurora, Colo., multiplex massacre.

If you’re unarmed, you obviously have fewer options. McQuinn chose to shield his girlfriend with his body, sacrificing himself so that she could survive. Another option might be to charge the shooter when he is distracted and try to overpower him. Very difficult without a weapon unless you are well trained or physically larger/stronger. The end result might be the same, or you might survive your injuries or even escape unharmed. Personally, I’d prefer to go down fighting.

Recently, [Aurora victim Jessica] Ghawi survived the June 2 Eaton Centre mall shooting in Toronto that killed two people and sent several others to the hospital.

There are those saying if we had tougher gun laws in the US and banned “assault rifles”, handguns, and severely restricted gun ownership that tragedies like this wouldn’t happen. Yet Ghawi, who was killed in the attack, was unlucky enough to be present at another mass shooting in Canada, where the gun control movement has met many of their goals. Gun control laws don’t stop madmen like this, they only ensure a safe working environment for the killers.

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