Ep. 8 Should I Shoot? The Line In the Sand, How I Would Handle A Mass Killing Situation

Editor’s Note: The following is a post from Sammy Reese, a former Marine Corps Artillery Officer and retired police officer from California. He is a part-time range master for the police department he retired from as well as a life-long martial artist and combatives coach.

Years ago, my FTO (field training officer) would quiz me throughout my shifts and ask me all kinds of questions. The one question I’ve never forgotten and ask myself quite often is, “Where is the line in the sand?” Will I disobey a direct order to disengage a pursuit of a vehicle in which a child has been abducted? Will I shoot the same person in the back as they flee from me with the child as I lay on the ground with a blown-out knee? Every day, we would play the “what if?” game and work on every possible angle we could come up with.

It’s been a long time since I was in Mike’s car, but I still play the “what if?” game to see where my line in the sand is on all types of “Oh *&^%”-type life events. I quiz my wife, kids and students every chance I get — “If you find yourself (fill in the blank), what is your plan? What is your secondary plan? Oh, I’m not done. What’s your third plan?”

My Nightmare

One of the nightmare scenarios I think of a lot is what I would do if an attack occurred while I’m with my family. I’ve already made up my mind that if I’m carjacked at the gas station (weapon seen) and I’m alone and not going to be taken in the vehicle, the truck is his. It’s just a truck and insurance will cover it. I’m not going to use deadly force to fight for a 2006 pickup.

If the bad guy says he’s taking me, though, I’ve already drawn the line in the sand. I’ve seen the end result of a carjacking/kidnapping and it’s a horror I won’t ever forget. The same applies if my family is in the truck. He’s not getting them, and I will fight at a level the crook never dreamed existed — I will not let him take my family.

What if the above happened and you weren’t armed because you decided to take a day off from concealed carry? The bad guys don’t take a day off and neither should you.

Active Shooter

Another nightmare is the active shooter/rapid mass murderer killing everyone he sees in the mall while I’m there with my family. In my mind, I have to protect my family at all costs. My primary objective is to get them out of the immediate area. If we can get out of the structure, that would be my first choice.

If I couldn’t evacuate my family, I would search for the best cover or concealment I could find. It might be a storeroom in the back of a store or a maintenance closet. I carry a small revolver as a backup to my primary concealed carry pistol. It’s a habit I started back in my cop days, and I continue to do so today. In this type of scenario, I’d be giving it to my wife or one of my kids. Yes, they all can shoot. Two of us can make for a better defense than just one.

Would I go hunting for the bad guys after I got my family to safety? That’s a question I ask myself a lot, and the more I ask it, the more I decide it depends on all kinds of factors. That’s not a cop-out, either. I would have to be very confident I had them secured where no one would be able to get them. We all bring different training and experience to the table. The decisions we make will all be different.

My line in the sand if I am solo is one I’ve considered a thousand times or so. I couldn’t live with myself if I ran to safety and let others get slaughtered. Doing everything possible to stop the threat is probably not the best choice in that scenario were I simply aiming to make it to rocking chair age, but that’s my choice.

I don’t plan on charging the machine guns like Audie Murphy, though. I’d go into hunt mode and use sound tactics to put the shooter(s) under duress. By this, I mean using proper movement and accurate fire to let them know they have resistance and it’s not the unopposed slaughter they’d hoped for. In most active shooter events, the bad guys beat feet or kill themselves when the good guys arrive.

The new breed of terrorist attack is very well planned and usually has multiple shooters who are extremely well armed. The last one was about an hour from where I live. Yes, ISIS is here despite what the politicians are telling us. I wish I had all the answers for every possible scenario, but no one has those answers and no one can tell you what to do. The decisions we make need to be based on our level of training and the info we can gather in a very short amount of time to formulate a plan.

What’s your nightmare? And what have you done to prepare for it?

For more critical information on the use of deadly force and other firearms and self-defense topics, visit www.uscca.com/GunsAmerica.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Rick July 18, 2016, 5:28 am

    I have a serious dilemma living in a state where concealed carry is illegal. I have a CC permit issued from another state. I am not comfortable willingly and knowingly breaking the law, but I feel more uncomfortable in this day and age not being protected. So, what should I do? Abide by the law, or carry anyway, and be prepared to suffer the legal consequences if caught. The bad guys don’t distinguish between the states where concealed carry is legal or illegal. What would you do?

    • Rick Marrufo August 5, 2016, 8:41 am

      As part of your legal responsibility you must follow the laws of the state you are in. Most states have a Castle Doctrine in place so you can carry in your car. But if the state law does not support reciprocity with your state or like California does their own thing, then you are bound to obey that law. I just don’t go to those states, personally!

  • DaveGinOly June 25, 2016, 12:42 am

    I train in my mind all the time. I’ve found it a very effective way to hard-wire responses to immediate situations.

    In WW II, during American firebombing of Japanese cities, Japanese fire fighting crews would station a man at the corner of a city block not yet engulfed by flames. His fellows would fight the fire. If they could not contain it, their man at the corner would burn, because it was his job to not move, and thereby encourage his fellows to fight the fire with their all.

    In some “active shooter in the mall scenarios”, I would find cover and lay down fire while others escape. It would be my intent to not allow the shooter to pass – I would try to effectively block his movement in my direction, at least. (Gandalf had the right idea.)

    If I were to go hunting for him, I would try to find a mall cop and tell him “You’re with me.” His job, I would tell him, is to cover my back, and to get the attention of approaching police by waving his arms and shouting “Armed civilian!” and making sure they don’t shoot me!

    Police, fire fighters, and EMTs are rarely “first responders.” First responders are those actually at the scene of an incident when it occurs. They are responsible for their own lives and safety, and the lives and safety of those in their charge. Everyone else arrives late.

  • mtman2 June 24, 2016, 6:24 pm

    Shooting is in one direction at a time, leaving anyone with courage(or 2+more) to storm the shooter.
    Beating him senseless with his own gun = rifle butt to the head +/or pistol whipped unconscience.
    I am in the Forestry/logging business and fully capable serious physical concentration in dangerous situations.
    Which I find myself facing regularly, but a cold blooded psycho-murder deserves no quarter or a split second.
    Only as harsh relatiation as is needed to stop him.

    Of couse if armed- one head shot would end it for the creep by a bystander.

    Evidently it was only a panicked group desperate to flee the murderer at the nightclub- which only aided his planned death toll. If there is nothing to lose and everything to gain- Courage is a split second automatic move and minndset.

    It would have been great if the above stopped him early on- giving a entirely different report and warning to other
    would be murderers you might not make it and face serious personal consequences. Like death by victims or severe brain damage from having your head bashed in by your own gun.

    “No greater Love than to lay your life down for your friends” –> Jesus –> ” And I have called you friends.”

    Like the young en that jump on a enemies live grenade to save his friends = has happened many times.
    Those men are called- REAL HERO’S – just ask the men they saved. What would you do ~?

  • Daniel June 24, 2016, 3:02 pm

    I always apply the “what if” scenario to many things in life, including driving skills. Have taught my children the same. Good article and comments.

  • SOLDIER JOE June 24, 2016, 11:49 am

    I was in a Mexican restaurant eating lunch with my wife when a woman staggered thru the door being stabbed by a man behind her. ( turned out later to be her husband) I drew my S&W, Model 60, aimed it at him and headed towards him and the door. I did not have a clean shot so did not fire but he retreated thru the parking lot crowded with people and cars with people in them. A person who had been outside during the action pointed out a man and told me that was him and to shoot him. I did not as it was not in my mind positive ID, danger to others and the threat to the woman was over. Turns out the man he pointed out was the store manager and not the perp. The woman has sucking chest wounds, heavy bleeding and close to shock. I began first aid ( lots of experience from Nam infantry tour) and wife called 911. The woman lived, never got a thank you. So it goes. Had the guy kept stabbing her and a clean shot appeared I would have dropped the hammer, no second thoughts or hand wringing or regrets. I went to condition red immediately on seeing the situation. Had I been in Orlando same reaction.

    • Steve November 3, 2017, 8:49 am

      Good situational thinking. Never fire at someone another points out as the shooter, unless WE absolutley know our self. I can here it now “I never said the store mgr was the perp” Big problem for the good guy. Maybe jail. I saved a guy from drowning once. He never thanked me either. Go figure.

  • Larry June 24, 2016, 9:56 am

    I’m as old as dirt & I’ve lived a good life. I’m x LE & could not live with myself if I didn’t do something to at least contain & distract the shooter. You’re right, when the shooter has incoming to worry about, he is not nearly as brave as when he is simply slaughtering sheep. Make the bastard walk thru a wall of bullets!

  • RAYMOND SHASHATY June 24, 2016, 9:07 am

    Awesome Article!!! As a retired NYPD Police Officer, The “what if” game was started on me and my first partner when we were rookies by our squad Sgt and FTO. I must say it made us better prepared to act, react and prevent. Also it made us better cops, to the point the people in our area saw we were level headed and fair, why because more than likely we had a what if scenario some time early and we learned from the more experienced cops. To this day I use the “what if” scenario training with my boys, students and co workers. As far as active shooters or any kind of threats all I can say is Cops think alike! FAmily make sure they are safe first, By myself It’s tactics, positioning and all in the Lord’s hands. But I know I will do something. Again great article.

  • James Newborn June 24, 2016, 8:17 am

    Very good article and thought provoking. Being retired military, widowed, not likely to have anyone with me and armed with a Colt .45, I fall into the category of the immediate hunter. The quicker a BG can be distracted by return fire, the fewer innocent people will die. It may not be the smartest thing to do, but it gives LE time to get there and take up the fight. After all, LE is only minutes away when seconds count.

  • David Telliho June 24, 2016, 7:40 am

    I agree. I couldn`t handle living w/myself if I ran away, leaving others to be injured or worse. My experience,was that with out thought,I ran toward the danger. I thought about it later,& wondered how things could have turned out differently. A great article,thank you.

  • Will Drider June 20, 2016, 11:56 pm

    At the Mall: I would get the family, cover, concealed and secured if possible wife will be prime 911 caller reporting her situation and what I’m doing.. I would take cover in a buffer position where I could observe, stop or delay the advance of a BG and it may also provide security others/shops. I would call 911 reporting situation also and that I’m armed with ( size, type color) handgun, my discription/clothing.
    Having retired from the Military and LE, I’m wired to go. It would be hard to stay put if gunfire and screams are heard. The line in the sand may just be a place for my foot print. Dispatch may be getting hammered with 100s of calls precluding ours.
    From the couch, I think I would lay conceal the handgun in my hand behind a bag or merchandise before moving towards the furball, don’t want another good guy or officer to see me as a pop up threat. I want to project being a shopper trying to move somewhere, move like a chicken shit unitl the time to act. In civs, CCWs and LE aren’t looking for your tiny badge/credentials tucked on yuor belt! Unless I observe a unidentified person with a gun clearly shooting civs or at LE, I gotta give the “drop the gun line”.
    Pray a lot!

  • Martin B June 20, 2016, 6:52 pm

    In Ezekiel Chapter 33 we have an example of accountability. If we see danger and yet do not report it, the blood of the slain is upon us. If we report it (blow the trumpet) but people ignore it and yet are slain, then their blood is upon their own heads. In the same way, if we can clearly see a way to save lives but refuse to act, the blood of the slain is upon us. We must act, even at the cost of our own lives. This is civilized conduct. Savages hide themselves away in terror, because they have neither the means nor the motive to protect themselves or others. We live in a nation of cowardly savages, who have some education yet are ignorant of the basic tenets of civilization. Evil must be stopped no matter the cost. Our elders and betters knew this well.

  • 1019 June 20, 2016, 1:09 pm

    Unless I was confronted by the active shooter I would remain in a defensive position. If you were hunting for the active shooter would you engage anyone that was armed? Maybe that individual is also hunting the active shooter.
    In this situation you could be considered maybe another active shooter. In any case it would be a difficult decision to make.
    Very good thought provoking articles, keep them coming.

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