New Topical Paper – Fight, Flight or Lockdown – Teaching Students and Staff to Attack Active Shooters could Result in Decreased Casualties or Needless Deaths

There has been considerable interest in teaching students and staff to attack active shooters as a last resort in recent years.  In December of 2011, Steve Satterly and I began research on a paper designed to explore the benefits and the potential dangers of training school employees and students to attack an active shooter as a last resort option.   The paper Fight, Flight or Lockdown –  Teaching Students and Staff to Attack Active Shooters could Result in Decreased Casualties or Needless Deaths is now available at no cost on our website. This approach has been highly controversial with many veteran law enforcement officers and educators voicing opposing views on the practicality of this approach.

There are now a number of training videos depicting various tactics to attack a gunman with several of them being available for public viewing on the internet.  Large numbers of people are now viewing these videos and these concepts have now been taught to children as young as kindergarten (in rare instances).

Proponents of the concept assert correctly that there have been some instances where victims have been killed and wounded when they remained relatively passive when they were confronted by an active shooter.  They propose that by teaching people these concepts, a group of individuals can overpower a gunman.  As the paper points out, there have already been cases where active shooters have been interrupted by civilians as far back as the late 1990’s.  They feel that by training groups of staff and students on this approach, another option will be available to people who find themselves confronted by an active shooter in a classroom, cafeteria, auditorium or other setting.

Those who have expressed concern about this approach point out that some of the concepts being taught might be appropriate for one situation but could result in needless mass casualty losses in another type of situation.  For example, one recent training video instructs viewers that they should always flee the building if they hear gunfire and have the opportunity to do so.  As victims have been killed when attempting to do this in past events, this concern may have some validity.  In addition, there is a concern that blanket recommendations of this type could prove deadly if numerous people attempt to flee the building at the same time.  For example, if there are several hundred people on each floor of a building and a shooting occurs on the sixth floor, several hundred people could jam stairwells fleeing floors five, six and seven creating a mass of densely packed victims.   Another concern is that people who leave relatively secure lockdown areas may be shot as they attempt to flee instead of simply locking down which may be a better option for their particular situation.  It is important to remember that lockdowns have been successfully preventing serious injury and death in schools for more than forty years.

Steve and I worked for more than a year to review numerous campus shooting situations as well as the findings of more than 1,700 school crisis simulations with 500 different school employees from 15 different school districts.  The paper also draws conclusions from seven different multiple victim school shootings in the U.S and Canada as well as many a number of other campus weapons assaults that did not involve active shooters.   

The paper is designed to stimulate further dialogue on the topic rather than to condemn the idea that there are situations where victims should fight back when they are trapped by an active shooter.  In addition to providing examples of cases where people have successfully stopped an active shooter incident, the paper raises a number of considerations that the authors feel have been overlooked as attempts to offer new options to help counter the dangers of active shooters.        



About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.