Surviving a Mass Shooting: Should I Run, Fight or Hide?


Some believe that stronger gun control laws are essential in the fight to eliminate these tragedies; yet, in reality understanding the psychology behind the gunman’s behavior may be one of the best defenses in preventing shooting violence.

Although it is almost impossible to predict if and when another shooting incident will happen, law enforcement can get a ‘heads up’ by analyzing the mind of the shooter. Most of us might think a shooter just snaps and goes berserk because of some type of emotional stress or external causes. When in fact, often times, they have planned their attack for weeks, months or years in advance. It is typical for a shooter to choose a location in advance, where people feel safe. Planning the attack gives him or her the advantage of a dress rehearsal and relishing the psychological buildup to the event. He knows his victims will be vulnerable because of the element of surprise; but, shooters seldom plan on what will happen after the event is over. Even though the shooter is on a ‘mission’ and prepared to die, he doesn’t anticipate what will happen if not apprehended, shot or goes on trial for the carnage.

Profiles of mass murders or serial killers show many similarities, even at a young age. Many shooters have problems with relationships and a history of rejection. There may be a sense of being disconnected with society. They often have been abused or bullied. Shooters in general tend to blame others for their own shortcomings and feel others deserve punishment. By dehumanizing their target a mass shooter generalizes the paranoia he feels: enough to kill a stranger. This may be similar to the desensitizing training solders have when going off to war. It is difficult for most of us to consider killing another without intensely viewing them as the enemy. They’re often loners who feel rejected and isolated from their peers. They frequently have poor coping abilities, anger management issues, discipline issues, and depression; and may even have attempted suicide. Lack of emotional support adds to the frustration of would be shooters.

Some experts say children who have undetected social a psychological problems could easily ‘slip through the cracks’ but if certain characteristics were noticed early on, more shootings could be avoided. It has been recognized that shooters turn to violence as a coping mechanism, when everything else fails. Recognizing children at a young age who have a high risk for violent behavior is essential. Early intervention for these children could mean the difference between turning them around and them turning into the cold-blooded killers of tomorrow. However, mass shootings is to some extent—a copycat crime.

When the objective is attention or infamy, a shooter does not receive their intended reward when the attention is shifted to survivors, victims and the community instead of recognizing the shooter for his crimes. The response of the media and the public can help to extinguish copycat crimes by not sensationalizing mass shooters. After all, recognition was what their intent was to begin with.

How do you survive a mass shooting?

The first defensive move to make is to ward off a mass shooting in all situations whether it’s the workplace or at school, should begin before the crime begins. First, always be alert and aware of an individual that seem suspicious. If you hear someone making threats, (even in a joking manner) or bringing in a weapon, you should immediately report that to a supervisor or the authorities, if possible. If they are legally able to carry a weapon then they can explain it to them. There is a difference between someone whose goal is to kill, and someone who simply has an affinity for guns. Never the less, this should be something authorities should determine. Your quick action may have just prevented a disaster.

If you hear the sound of gunshots or see a shooter in the distance, running away should be your first plan of action. When running away or running for cover, always run in a zigzag, to avoid becoming an easy target.

If the shooter is off in the distance and might not have noticed you, seek an exit or hide in a room, preferably with windows, so you have a way out. Lock or barricade the door with furniture or a file cabinet. If there is a phone in the room or if you have a cell phone, call 911 for help. If you fear the shooter may hear you talking, leave the line open so the police can hear what’s going on. Turn off the lights and remain silent. Be sure your cell phone is on mute.

If you are among several people in a room or public place, don’t huddle together. Spread out and get down low or lay flat. You want to make yourself a difficult target, and the shooter may think you are already dead or injured and leave you alone. If you are in a bathroom the best bet is to lock the door and hide in a stall with your feet off the floor. Before you open the door to anyone be sure it is the police or the paramedics. Remember when the police arrive they will probably treat everyone as a potential suspect. Don’t make any sudden moves or run and cooperate with all of their requests.

When faced with a mass shooting situation, remember you basically have three options:

*Get away, if you can safely escape.

*Hide, if there is a good place to hide.

*Fight or confront the shooter.

Confronting the shooter should be a last resort and should be considered only in extreme circumstances. If you are with others, make a plan with them as to what you will do if the shooter enters the room. In that circumstance you must do whatever it takes to survive. Make a commitment to act as a team if the worst scenario happens. Unarmed civilians who band together have a much better chance of surviving an attack than just one individual.

Whether you choose to run, fight or hide may depend on the circumstances, but know that attempts to negotiate with a mass shooter may be unsuccessful because they have already planned to kill and it is doubtful you can change their mind. Use common sense and remember to be aware of your surroundings and your possible options. Trust your instincts, make a decision to protect yourself and survive a mass shooter.

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