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How to Survive a Mass Shooting

Last Updated: January 6, 2020

Unfortunately, mass shootings have become a common occurrence in our society.

But this post isn’t meant to be a commentary on why mass shootings happen,or even what can be done to stop them.  It is meant to help you survive a mass shooting, should you ever find yourself in one.

Fast Reaction is Critical

Most of us want to believe that a mass shooting could never occur to us, but the truth is that a gunman could open fire in just about any public space.

In 2015 alone, The Gun Violence Archive lists 296 mass shootings.  These shootings have occurred in schools, workplaces, shopping malls, movie theaters…  So, unless you never go to public places, you could fall victim to an active shooter.

Many people freeze up or panic when they are in an emergency situation.  Every second counts and those split second decisions could mean the difference between life and death.

This is why it is so critical that you react quickly if you should find yourself in a mass shooting situation.

Emergency Conditioning

The military uses a tactic called Emergency Conditioning to help prepare soldiers for battle.  This same tactic can help prepare yourself mentally for a mass shooting so you don’t freeze or panic.

Emergency Condition involves visualizing a disaster situation in great detail.  The goal is to trick your brain into thinking that it has already gone through the event, even though it hasn’t really happened yet.  Then, if you do find yourself in that situation, it will feel more familiar and you will be less likely to panic and more likely to respond quickly.

Military.com has a great article on how to use Emergency Conditioning for mental preparedness.

Run, Hide, Fight

This is the advice from the FBI and police departments around the country.  If you find yourself in an active shooting situation, then you need to: Run, Hide, Fight.


People who run in mass shooting situations are the most likely to come out alive.  If you know there is a shooter in the building or area, and you’ve got a clear escape, then don’t hesitate.  RUN!  And do it right away, taking anyone you can see along with you.

Be warned that there might be hundreds of other people fleeing as well, which could result in a stampede.  Practice situational awareness and always be aware of where your exits are.

If you need to flee, look for unconventional exits – such as a window or a back door.


If you cannot run away, such as if the shooter is blocking an exit, then you should hide.

The best thing to do is barricade yourself in a safe room away from the shooter.  Close the door and pile up as much stuff as possible in front of it – chairs, desks, sofas…  The shooter may still be able to get in, but this will buy you some time.  It only takes about 3-4 minutes for the police to arrive, so those extra minutes could save your life and the lives of countless others.

If you cannot barricade a room, then you are going to have to hide wherever you can.  Try to find a bulletproof hiding spot, such as behind a metal desk.

One option is to hide in plain site by pretending to be dead.  This is what one little girl did during the Charleston shooting and she came out alive.
*Once you have hidden, call 911 – but only if it won’t give away your location! It is best to call 911 from a landline.  A landline will give the dispatcher your location, whereas a cell phone will not.

**After calling 911 (if it is safe to do so), TURN OFF YOUR PHONE.  If it rings, your hiding spot will be given away.


If running and hiding don’t work, then you are going to have to fight for your life.  Yes, you are probably going to get shot if you attack the shooter – but take comfort in the fact that most gunshot wounds are not fatal.

In fact, if you can make it to a doctor while your heart is still beating, only 5% of gunshot wounds are fatal.

“It’s a matter of total, straight luck,” says Dr. Vincent J. M. DiMaio, a former chief medical examiner and the author of a book on gunshot wounds.

If you’ve got to fight the shooter, expect to get shot.  But keep on fighting!

Use anything you have in the vicinity – chairs, a sharp pencil, a mug of hot coffee…  The surge of adrenaline might be stronger than the gunshot would you sustain, and be enough to get the gun out of the shooter’s hands.

If others are around you, call on them to help you.

Another instance where you will want to fight is if you are hiding, and the active shooter’s gun jams or needs to be reloaded.  You can take advantage of this opportunity to run away or attack.

This is what happened during the 2011 Tucson shooting.  When Jared Lee Loughner, the active shooter, stopped to reload, his magazine fell to the ground.  One bystander grabbed the magazine.  Another one clubbed the back of Loughner’s head with a folding chair.  Then Bill Badger, a 74-year-old retired US Army Colonel who had been shot tackled Loughner to the ground.  This is an example of true heroism.

*If you attack, aim for the hands (with the goal of knocking the gun out).  Or aim for the eyes, face, or neck.

What If You Have a Gun?

If you have a gun, follow the same instructions for everyone else: Run, Hide, Fight.  Even if you are a great shot, it is still too risky to go after the active shooter.  You also risk accidentally harming an innocent bystander in the chaos and confusion.

Diversion Tactics

If you are unable to run away but the active shooter isn’t in your hiding spot yet, then you might have time for one of these diversion tactics.

Make a fire: Get papers, clothing, and other items which will easily catch on fire.  Put them in the path where the active shooter would need to go to get to your hiding spot.  Light these on fire.  Let’s hope that there aren’t any sprinkler systems which will turn on!  The flames and smoke may prevent the shooter from getting to you.  But obviously only use this tactic if you won’t risk setting your hiding spot  on fire in the process.

Pepper Spray: If you or someone near you has pepper spray, it isn’t going to do much against a gun.  However, you can spray it in the shooter’s path.  The pepper spray will linger in the air, hopefully preventing the shooter from going further towards your hiding spot.

What would you do in a rampage shooting?  Let us know in the comments below or join the discussion on Facebook.

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  1. The one thing most of these articles leave out, never ever be the person holding a gun when the cops show up. Whether it is your carry weapon or you have disarmed the gunman, place the weapon out of the reach of the assailant and where cops will be able to see it. In an active shooter situation, cops don’t waist time waiting for someone drop a gun or even give the order to do so.


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