—Sheriff’s Office Policy and Procedure Manual (El Paso County, Colorado)
[Tim Larkin comment: Chris and I purposely held this post during the aftermath of last month's tragedy in Colorado. But with a seemingly endless string of shootings... the latest near the Empire State Building in NYC just this morning... we'd like you to consider this message now, even if it's not what most want to hear.]
Let’s remove reason and morality from the equation and imagine YOU are the active shooter.
What do you want? An unrestricted field of fire in a target-rich environment. To be the only one dictating the tempo so you can maintain all of the above.
Like a shark cleaving through a school of fish, you want everyone responding to what you do in such a way as to reinforce your operational dominance. In other words, you want the crowd to surge away from you.
When they run they move into your work area and provide a target better than the broad side of a barn… the backside of a crowd. They clear out space in front of you so you are free to fire at will. And best of all, they leave you alone to do what you came here for, and in spades.
This understanding—as reprehensible as it is to dwell on it—is valuable because it tells us what we really need to do in these situations: we must, as a group, swarm the shooter.
We have to tackle him, weigh him down with numbers, immobilize him with our sheer mass. This is the only way to limit his access to victims, interrupt his ability to operate and strip him of control over the engagement—essentially reversing the roles and forcing him to worry about defending himself from a panicked mob.
If you’re the shooter, you want distance, not people closing, close or right next to you, spoiling your aim, restricting your field of fire, imposing a time-limit on how long you’re operational. If you’re the shooter, you want time and space within which to work.
If you’re in the crowd, you want to restrict, constrict, and eliminate that time and space.
While it looks great on paper, it should be understood that the swarm tactic won’t reduce casualties to zero. But if it’s the difference between three or 13 dead then the cold equations say it’s better that we lose a few instead of many. It certainly can’t be any worse than what we currently have (and experienced once again in Colorado)… the herd-tactic of hoping he has so many targets you’ll be the lucky one who’s overlooked.
Swarming an active shooter isn’t an easy thing, compounded by the fear that you’ll be the only one who goes for it. It’s only going to work if you know at least some of the people around you are going to pile in with you, that it’s not just you vs. the shooter, but the entire crowd.
We need to decide, as a society, that we are done allowing the insane to exercise their madness on us freely and without immediate consequence; that we will not be picked off as terrified individuals but will rise as one and end any threat before it can gain traction.
(Tim Larkin comment: After each of the recent “active shooter” rampages: Columbine, VA Tech, Ft. Hood, Tucson, Aurora and, this morning, the Empire State Building, my Israeli friends contact me asking the same question, “Why don’t Americans know to swarm the shooter?” This tactic is well known in Israel (they learned the hard way) and was used successfully enough to change the preferred tactic used by these murderers from ‘active shooter’ to ‘suicide bomber.’ Which shows that shutting down one avenue to a killer will not stop violence completely but we can shut down this particular tactic’s success rate by swarming an active shooter.)
Sounds great, right? So why won’t we?
Liability. It’s probably cheaper to tell you to run and hide as an individual than it is to tell you to swarm the shooter as a group.
If you run, hide and get shot to death alone, well, it’s the shooter’s fault.
If you take direct action and get shot to death, every lawyer in a three-state radius pricks up their ears.
Simple fear. Completely natural and understandable. No one wants to get shot to death. There’s a million years of evolutionary pressure that has to be overcome in order to act instead of react. But this is where training comes in—you replace fear with knowledge and practice. Resolve yourself to a course of action, get physical training, and then practice for the results you want.
In a perfect world we would decide, as a society, that we’ve had enough and tell everyone to swarm an active shooter, then practice doing so at home, at school, at the workplace until everyone knew that the only person who would be alone in that situation would be the shooter himself.
Unfortunately, in our imperfect world only one person will learn anything at all from the latest horror—the next shooter. And he will find himself with an unrestricted field of fire in a target-rich environment where his madness is free to feed, unopposed.
–Tim Larkin & Chris Ranck-Buhr
Target Focus Training
[Authors' notes: The references below will give you further insight into the ideas we've discussed above, and our thoughts about each.]
Though specifically speaking of armed response, I found the description of the interruption of the shooter’s work illuminating.
With skeptical commentary from a victim of the Virginia Tech shooting.
Opinion by Larry Banaszak, Chief of Police at Otterbein University
Chief Banaszak has actually instituted the training of swarm tactics for faculty and staff, providing specifics.
Someone who doesn’t exactly agrees with our approach.
PS. If you’re new to TFT and our self-defense system, called by many, “THE most effective training of it’s kind in the world today,” be sure to use the link in the upper left corner of this page to join our newsletter list and gain access to a series of free videos. To learn more, check out our Products or Live Training tools.
Finally, see Glenn Beck’s recent comments about TFT and his recommendation to his readers and subscribers.