Less than a week ago, shooter Omar Mateen walked into the Pulse gay bar in Orlando, Florida and opened fire with a Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle, murdering 49 people before he was killed in a police shootout.
In any active shooter situation, most of us are taught to run, hide and barricade ourselves in a secure location until authorities settle the situation. Sure, this may work most of the time in most environments, like the unfortunate UCLA campus shooting, but in the case of Orlando — people packed in a dark, crowded and enclosed space with very few exits — running and hiding can only take you so far.
This begs several questions: Could things have turned out differently if some people decided to fight back? Could more lives have been saved if instead of running, people put their lives on the line to tackle or even kill the shooter? And lastly, rather than hide somewhere and wait to potentially be found and killed, how could someone without any combat training possibly take down an armed gunman?
Wanting to know the best way to fight against a shooter — not run and hide from them — we spoke to safety expert, private investigator, former NYPD police officer and bodyguard “Wild Bill” Stanton. He revealed that the best weapon for surviving any shooter situation, first and foremost, is the right mindset:
“You need to have the heart of a warrior. You need to have the mindset and the heart to fight for your life. You need to mentally prepare yourself for something to happen.”
Stanton has three rules for any dangerous situation: “You need to run, you need to hide, or you need to fight.” Running and hiding may be the first instinct for most people, but people can also fight by preparing themselves for the worst ahead of time. “It’s not about being paranoid, it’s about being prepared,” Stanton says. He also compares it to being dehydrated — by the time you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated:
“If you have to think about how you’re going to react in a situation like this, it’s more than likely too late for you.”
#1 Know What’s Going on Around You
To increase your chances of surviving, you first need to arm your brain with two skills Stanton calls “situational awareness” and “critical thinking” — two plain words that could end up saving your life.
“It’s the person who has what we call in the business ‘situational awareness’ and ‘critical thinking’ skills that will more times than not get out of a situation versus a person that has their face in their cell phone and their earbuds in listening to their iPod.”
Modern technology has, in no small way, increased our obliviousness and decreased the most critical skill to general survival — awareness. With situational awareness, you extend your “radar” of what’s going on around you far beyond just your personal space.
“What we’re doing as a culture is we’re cocooning ourselves, shutting ourselves out from the world when, especially now, you should be extending your radar, not turning it off.
“Being prepared is like, you go into a restaurant, you position yourself where you have command of the room, you know where the exits are and then you continue to enjoy your time.
“Being a former bodyguard, that was my life’s mission, to always be looking. Like a Secret Service agent, you’re looking at people, you’re looking at their body language, you look at their positioning, you look how they’re dressed. We all need to channel our inner ‘Secret Service ninja.’”
Stanton has a simple exercise for increasing your general awareness in any given place, and all you have to do is take a walk:
“I’ve been in the business for a long time. What I always do is I take a walk around. It’s not to pick up any body or look for any body, it’s to do a perimeter sweep. I’m looking at the exits and I tuck that away in my subconscious. I know where all the exits are. Then I do a couple of scenarios in my head … and I’m always fast forwarding ahead. Then I set it in my mind, and I go out to have a great time.”
Once you are aware of your surroundings and you have a good enough view of the playing field, you can then pick what plays to run depending on the situation.
#2 Know How to Choose the Best Way to Survive
A critical thinker is a person who can look at a situation, understand what is going on and predict what could happen, then logically choose the best decision to keep themselves alive. Sometimes that decision is to run — sometimes the best choice is to fight.
“Critical thinking is — if there is a fight — is that fight a diversion? Is it between a husband and wife? Is it between two guys in the mafia? Or is it a guy who’s a potential terrorist?
“And what am I going to do? Am I going to turn the table over and hide behind the table? Am I going to grab whoever I’m with and run to the back? Or, is the threat close enough and dangerous enough where I feel I can’t run and I can’t hide? Then I’m just going to attack this mother fucker and take him out to the ball game if you know what I mean.”
Stanton is clear to point out that every situation you find yourself in is different, so every decision you make has it’s own strengths and weaknesses, but only you can choose what is best for you.
“I’m never going to tell anybody what they must do, that’s your life — and it could literally be a life and death situation — so you have to answer that question. But if you do decide to flip that switch and fight for your life, act like you want it.”‘
#3 How You Can Kill the Shooter
While fighting should always be the last resort because it’s often the riskiest, Stanton provided several helpful tips for how to fight back in a specific location like a bar or club.
“If there are a lot of bodies between me and the shots, I’m going to take my chances and run, but if his back is to me, I may go for it.
“You bite the guy’s throat. You do whatever you need to do. You eviscerate his eyes, you put your thumbs in his eye sockets and you press until that eye pops out. It’s not pretty, but neither is getting shot.”
You can also arm yourself with almost any object you find around you in a club if you have the opportunity to surprise attack a gunman from around a corner or behind them:
“I may jump over the bar, because you know they always have knives behind bars to cut the lemons, and if they don’t have any knives, what the fuck am I going to do? I’m going to break me a bottle and give myself a sharp implement.
“What else do they have? They have beer bottles. They have big metal plates. I might throw that one way and run the other. As you’re giving me the scenario, I’m giving you answers of what I may or may not do.”
If you have the mindset, literally anything in any environment can become a deadly weapon. Whether in the club, bar or an office environment, critical thinking will increase your “deadly weapon” creativity:
“You need to channel your inner MacGyver. You can turn anything into a weapon. If you’re in an office, you can use a stapler. You see a fire extinguisher, it’s a multiple weapon tool. You can spray it at the person, you can put it on the floor and make it slick. Depending on the fire extinguisher, it creates a fog, and then it’s a 20 pound steel blunt instrument that you can hit the guy with.
“So don’t think in terms of different weapons because we don’t live in a ‘Matrix world’ where there are handguns and rifles at hand. Anything can be a weapon. You can break a chair and use one of the legs as a spear. You have to think that way in scenarios like that, and that goes back to critical thinking.”
#4 Know What You Are Capable Of
Lastly, none of the skills or the split-second decisions would be possible if you don’t know yourself. “You need to know your limitations and know your training,” Stanton explained.
“I can bench press over 300 pounds. I know how to fight. I know my capabilities. Know your capabilities. In situations like this, you don’t rise to the occasion, you default to your training.
“Everybody has a different answer. If I’m a sprinter and I don’t know how to fight, well my best shot is to run. If I’m heavy set and I’m strong as fuck, I may just want to hide and pounce on the son of a bitch.”
Fortunately, most of us may never find ourselves trapped in deadly situations, but that also gives us the chance to prepare for the worst ahead of time.
Until politicians get their act together to implement stricter gun control to cure the problem before people get hurt, we always have to remember we live in a dangerous world and knowing what you can do in those dangerous situations can help save yourself and possibly stop a gunman from killing others.