Written by: Morgan Ballis
"There was so much blood." These were the first words my mother said to me after she had survived the deranged rampage of a gunman. In the midst of it all, her actions would save the life of future Congressman Ron Barber. As a combat veteran I never imagined I would be counseling my mother on the horrors of war and PTSD. But this is the world we live in.
After transitioning out of the Marine Corps I began making firearm's education and armed self-defense my livelihood. I began to examine mass shootings from a tactical perspective. My wife, an elementary school teacher, walked me through her school's protocol for a lock down drill. Based on what is known about active shooters; what I learned regarding school lock downs is terrifying. A report published by the FBI on active shooters concluded in the United States From 2000 to 2013 there have been 160 incidents classified “active shooter” with an average of 16.4 a year in the last seven years of the study. These horrific crimes resulted in 557 wounded and 486 dead for a total of 1,043 casualties. Even more unsettling, 70% of these incidents occurred in an educational or commerce/business environment (Blair, et al., 2014).
I am a strong advocate for teachers, with proper training, being armed on school campuses. With that being said, I have to accept that most do not agree with this position and it is against the law to carry firearms on most campuses. We must look for alternative ways for our loved ones to protect themselves and their students without encouraging them to break the law.
It is imperative to hold school districts and institutions accountable for their lack of training and planning. Why are we encouraging our children to huddle in a corner and wait to be murdered? Re-evaluating how we conduct lock down drills and steps that our faculty and students can take will increase their chances of surviving a mass murder situation. Below we discuss three positives and three negatives of lock down drills. Then, we examine three solutions to improve our current plans. Since our children are our number one priority, we will look at this from a teacher's perspective.
1. Targets of Opportunity - Having students secure in place or seek shelter in the nearest classroom minimizes targets of opportunity for the killer as he moves around the school. With fewer victims in the hallways the murderer is forced to seek his victims out.
2. Fratricide - Lock down drills reduce the possibility of innocent victims being caught in the cross fire between first responders and the attacker. Having students remain in their places of shelter until law enforcement can clear the area also minimizes the possibility of intended victims being mistaken for the attacker.
3. Slows the Attack - Lock down drills create dozens, if not hundreds, of obstacles for the attacker. As the attacker attempts to gain entry into rooms the fluidity of his assault is stalled. This gives first responders and potential victims precious time they might not have had otherwise. Notice these obstacles do not prevent deaths from happening but only minimize the number of casualties.
1. Killer's Knowledge - Almost all mass shootings in schools are carried out by current or former students. These killers have an intimate knowledge of the security features, layout, and immediate actions of the targets they select. The selection of the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino by an Islamic fanatic and former employee was no accident. These killers have an ability to gather intelligence and even conduct rehearsals of their plan on a daily basis as they walk to and from classes. The Westside School Shooting is the best example of mass murderers using their knowledge to maximize the effectiveness of their attack. After pulling the fire alarm, the two murderers ambushed their teachers and classmates as they assembled outside per their fire drill procedures.
2. Hiding Under the Sheets - Closing the blinds in a classroom, turning off the lights, and locking the door is a lot like hiding under the sheets in your bed when you are scared; you aren't fooling anyone. If someone breaks into your home at one in the morning the first place they search for you is in your bed. The same concept applies to a school or any other facility. If a mass murderer enters a school at one in the afternoon he is not going to be fooled by a classroom with the lights off and blinds drawn. This is a false sense of security. We can utilize these precious minutes to improve our position and ensure our survival.
3. Cover or Concealment? - I am disgusted with how many private consulting companies and law enforcement agencies lie to teachers and parents about how much "protection" the door they are hiding behind provides. Here is a simple test: Ask your school resource officer if there was a gun fight in the hallway would he feel safe opening a door and using it as protection from the bullets being fired? A door to a classroom will not stop a bullet. Period. An attacker can gain access by simply shooting out a window or lock and unlocking the door. Simply locking a door is not enough to stop a determined attacker, especially one who has in-depth knowledge about the lock down drill and the facilities. Let’s not forget where students are told to “hide” in the classrooms—often under tables and desks in direct line of fire from the classroom door. Cover is any object that will conceal part or all of the body and provide significant protection from incoming fire. Adequate cover is determined by the type and caliber of the firearm, ammunition being fired, and the distance from which it is fired (NRA, 2012). Consideration needs to be taken regarding consumable cover as well, meaning it may only stop a few rounds before it deteriorates and no longer provides protection. Going back to the FBI study, the majority of the injuries during an active shooter incident were sustained from fragmentation from windows and walls. We need to advise teachers on the safest location in their rooms not only from bullets but from fragmentation.
1. Barricade - Locking the door and hoping the attacker will not gain entry is not enough. We need to take steps to seal ourselves in the room and maximize our use of cover. Now that we understand the principles of cover we must examine the threats we are facing. If we look at the equipment of previous attacks the two most common weapons used are an AR style rifle chambered in a 5.56/.223 and semi-automatic pistol chambered in a 9mm. With that knowledge we need to prepare our position understand that an AR will penetrate almost all doors and the majority of walls inside a building. Use a belt to lock the hinges on a door while having students stack their desks against it. Simply sliding desks to the door is not enough. Flip and stack any desk or table you can against the door and windows. A single desk may not stop a bullet but many desks will.
2. Prepare to Fight - Once we have "fortified" our position we must prepare to defend the lives of our students. What can we use as a weapon? Anything from scissors to a chair can be used but the most effective weapon of opportunity is a fire extinguisher. The fire extinguisher serves three purposes when used as a weapon: First, it blinds the attacker. Second, the carbon dioxide cuts off the attacker's air supply. Last, the fire extinguisher can be used as a bludgeon to subdue our attacker. The idea that we have to prepare our educators to "take up arms" to defend their students is an uncomfortable and scary notion. We must however, be honest and mentally prepare ourselves for this possibility.
3. Communicate - Once we have secured our location and positioned our students and ourselves in the safest part of the room we can now warn other teachers and contact outside agencies for help. Just like everything today, there is an app for that. One of the best apps on the market is SchoolGuard. SchoolGuard allows staff to quickly alert other teachers and outside agencies of the situation. This is also the time to console those around us and look for alternate avenues of escape. We must also formulate a plan of action if the attacker gains entry into our room.
We must start being proactive about the realities of being faced with a mass murderer. Whether we are in a classroom, at the office, or in a public setting we have to do more than huddle in a corner and wait to be the next victim. Hoodwinking our teachers, students and employees into believing that locking the door will guarantee their safety is criminal. Military and law enforcement have a deep understanding of the principles of cover and concealment yet we never convey this knowledge to the administrators and educators where our kids go to school. The next time your school or office has an active shooter drill ask these questions: Will the door or walls stop a bullet? What more can I do to prevent the attacker from gaining entry? What can I use to fight back? How will I communicate with other teachers, administration and law enforcement?
*Note: The author does not speak on behalf nor is this blog endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
Morgan is the owner and Chief Firearms Instructor of Defensive Tactics and Firearms. With eleven years as an infantryman in the United States Marine Corps, Morgan is also an NRA Law Enforcement Instructor and a Certified Anti-terrorism Force Protection Specialist.
1. Blair, J. Pete, and Schweit, Katherine W. (2014). A Study of Active Shooter Incidents, 2000 - 2013. Texas State University and Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington D.C. 2014.
2. National Rifle Association Law Enforcement Division. (2012). Law Enforcement Handgun Instructor Manual. Fairfax, VA: National Rifle Association.