How to Survive a Mass Shooting: What to do in an Active Shooter Situation

While active shooter situations are still pretty rare, it’s a phenomenon that does seem to be increasing in regularity.

From the recent shootings in Ohio and Texas to continuing terrorist attacks and violent attacks from organized urban mobs, mass shooting and mob attacks do happen, and they are something that we need to be prepared to respond to.

Preparing for Active Shooter Situations, and Terrorist Attacks

I dedicated an entire section of my book, The Ultimate Situational Survival Guide: Self-Reliance Strategies for a Dangerous World, to self-defense topics and understanding the criminal mind. The world our kids are growing up is far worse than anything we experienced growing up.

Situational Awareness is Key to Your Survival

Being able to protect yourself in an active shooter situation begins with having a good sense of what’s going on around you.

As I suggested in a previous article, about protecting yourself during a flash mob situation, knowing your environment is one of the most important safety precautions you can take in any situation.

Before entering any public place, you want to scope out the situation. If anything looks out of place, or your gut tells you something isn’t right, Listen to your instincts and leave.

Take the time to Learn Defensive and Firearm Tactics

The simple fact is, the only way to be able to stop these types of events is for the good guys to be armed and trained!

The key to preparedness is not only understanding the threat but taking the time to train yourself to be able to react during these stressful situations. To be truly prepared you need to take some sort of self-defense training course that deals with real-life training and stress response.

When training, you need to consider every aspect of an active shooter situation. That means going beyond just knowing how to shoot. Things like re-holstering your sidearm, calling the police while keeping your firearm on your target, working with improvised weaponry, close quarters combat, and knowing how to handle the stress of the situation, are all areas of training that should be included in any good self-defense course.

Find the Exit Points Wherever you Go

Part of being aware of your environment means knowing how to get out when things go bad. Upon entering any new area, the first thing you want to do is look for every possible escape route and exit that you can find. If things go bad, this one action could mean the difference between life and death, and is something that should never be overlooked.

Know what gunfire sounds like!

Even if you refuse to protect yourself by carrying a firearm, you sure as hell better know what actual gunfire sounds like — and you need to make sure your kids know as well.

All to often you hear people say things like, “I thought someone was throwing fireworks.” That couple seconds of hesitation will get you killed! You need to immediately be able to identify the threat and act.

Always Give Yourself the Tactical Advantage

Mass shooter

Call it paranoia; I call it always being prepared. When putting yourself in a target rich environment –  like a movie theater, public gathering, or concert venue –  there are a couple of things you should do to maximize your ability to survive a deadly situation.

First, try to avoid situations that may turn violent.  While predicting one of these events is almost impossible, there are a number of things you can do that will put the odds in your favor.


The madmen who commit these crimes are looking for attention. Lone shooters and terrorist organizations are both looking for media attention, and high body counts. They are more likely to attack people during high profile events, so when possible:

  • Avoid opening night events
  • Avoid sold out shows and concerts
  • Avoid high-profile events, and politically charged rallies


If you do go to a large event such as a movie, a concert, or some sort of rally or sporting event, make sure you choose seats that are situated near an exit. The last place you want to be during a shooting is stuck in the middle of a crowd, or in the middle of a row of seats.  Placement is a critically important factor in staying safe.

  • Choose seats near exits
  • Never choose seats in the middle of a crowd
  • Don’t make yourself stand out from the crowd in any way
  • Make sure there are no obstacles standing in your way of making a quick escape


We have instincts for a reason. A number of people in the recent Colorado event had a bad feeling when they saw the shooter enter the building, yet most of them brushed off their feelings and reasoned that it was probably some sort of publicity stunt for the movie.  Even after the shooting started firing, a number of people said,  they still thought “it had to be part of the show.”

If a situation seems odd, if something seems out of place, or your gut tells you something isn’t right, listen to your instincts and don’t wait around to find out what happened.


It may sound counter-intuitive, especially if you listen to the mainstream media, but most of these mass shootings occur in gun-free zones. The cowards who commit these massacres know that they will find little resistance in these so-called “safe zones” so more often than not they select these targets to carry out their crimes. Criminals, terrorists, and the mentally insane don’t care about Gun Control Laws.

Personally, I avoid these areas like the plague, but if you are forced to go into one of these areas at the very least you should consider carrying some sort of improvised weapon.

Surviving an Active Shooter Situation

school shooter

Should the unthinkable happen, and you find yourself in the middle of an active shooter situation, there are a couple of things you can do to increase your chances of survival.


This is first and foremost on the list of options.  In an active shooter situation, the first thing you want to do is try to escape. This isn’t a movie or a video game; when the bullets start flying the last place you want to be is anywhere near the shooter.

Hopefully, you took the time upon entering your location to scope out the exits. If you can safely make your way to an exit, do so without hesitation and without attracting unwanted attention from the shooter. Once you hit the exit, keep going. Distance is one of the keys to surviving the situation.


Taking cover means moving away from any possible harm. If you can’t safely remove yourself from the situation, the next best option may be to take cover. When I say take cover, I don’t mean closing your eyes and hiding behind some tiny little object.

In the movies, you often see the hero of the story returning fire from behind some ridiculous object like a table, or piece of furniture. In real life, these objects provide little if any actual protection from incoming fire. There’s a big difference between taking cover behind a solid barrier (like a concrete wall), and hiding behind a chair or table.


Critics of this option will probably argue that you should never try to attack a shooter. But if you’re in a situation where there’s no place to run, and no place to seek cover, what other option do you have? Most critics fall silent when asked that question.

The fact is, in an active shooter situation you often have very few options. Laying there frozen in fear does nothing to add to your chances of coming out alive. If you have no other options, you need to act quickly and decisively to try to take out the shooter.

If you have a firearm, then hopefully you have trained for this type of situation. I’m not going to go into tactics and proper response because nothing I write will properly prepare you for this situation. Only proper training, both physically and mentally, can prepare for this type of encounter. Please don’t underestimate the need to properly train yourself in the ways of self-defense.

After the attack, get to safety.

Once you have exited the building or removed yourself from the situation, DO NOT DROP YOUR GUARD.

  • What if the shooter returns?
  • What if there are other shooters waiting outside the exits?

I was stunned to see cell phone footage of people fleeing the scene during the Colorado shooting. Why anyone would stay and film this tragedy is not only disgusting, it’s something that could get you killed. Hanging out at the scene of the incident is never a good idea, trying to film it on your cell phone is just plain stupid.

While these types of incidents are extremely rare, they do happen and they are something that we must be prepared to respond to. We live in a sick society where people are constantly seeking fame; unfortunately, there are a growing number of lunatics who will do anything it takes to receive that fame and notoriety. This is a problem that will probably only get worse with time.

Shirts of Liberty

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  1. This is very good advice. Unstable people during stressful times in an increasingly violent and desensitized culture are acting out more and more. Not preparing is being naive and foolish. Err on the side of caution is always a good rule whether dealing with a crazed lone shooter, natural disaster or catastrophe.

    It is better to be prepared and think ahead of what is the worst that can happen when out and about or even in your house then living in state of cluelessness and unpreparedness.

    Thanks for the good advice and my prayers for the victims and their families.

  2. I prefer to sit by the exit. Perhaps my mentality is going to be different than simply attempting to survive; I’d prefer to take a risk and put down the threat, then wait to be executed, and as a citizen I feel that it’s all of our duty to make a difference. Somebody sitting by an exit with an 7.62×25 pistol that lucks out by not being shot first, would be in a much better position to kill the murderous person, than somebody hiding or trying to get a sight picture in the middle of a panicked crowd.

  3. Really I would say that there’s no “good” place to sit in a situation like the movie theater. In the Aurora shooting we know that he was shooting at people trying to escape, so if you’re by an exit this means that you could actually end up being shot while you try to run out.

    Though if I were to pick the spot I think is “best,” I would sit slightly offset from the center. This way if the shooter chooses the entrance/exit closest to you, you can still reasonably head in a different direction. Also be sure to get low so that the seats in front of you hopefully provide some concealment if they are tall enough (this is NOT cover. Cover is something that has a reasonable chance to stop the bullet from hitting you). If the shooter can’t see you he isn’t likely to shoot you as there’s so many other targets running around for him to focus on.

    Overall a good article though. Just remember situational awareness and DON’T PANIC. If you panic you’re likely to become one of the sheep and not make a good choice.

    Oh and the comment about as a last resort to attack an active shooter made me laugh. Not because it is wrong/bad, but because the military CBT on “active shooter” has a picture of an angry man throwing his motorcycle helmet for the picture of attacking. And the comment about attacking reminded me of this picture that looks rather funny.

    • Hey Chris, You made what I think is the best comment of all. “Overall a good article though. Just remember situational awareness and DON’T PANIC. If you panic you’re likely to become one of the sheep and not make a good choice.” You can’t even begin to access the situation if you lose your cool.

    • EVIL comes in all forms and situations…it’s EVERYWHERE, ready to strike. Whether youre in front, at the left or behind someone who is about to wreak havoc, no one will know who he/she is until they start firing. The best advice Ive heard yet is…DON’T PANIC!! When you panic, the brain stops. And…please don’t add the stress by screaming which feeds panic in others. BETTER ADVICE…Always be READY to meet your Maker!!!!

  4. “Only proper training, both physically and mentally, can help you prepare for this type of encounter. Please don’t underestimate the need to properly train yourself in the ways of self defense.”

    Couldn’t agree more with this. In this universe there is an infanite amount of ways you can die, but alot of them can be avoided with training, mentally and physically. Without training you can end up one of those people that just cry and scream in these situation, neither of witch really wont help you in ANY life or death situation.

    Today people have a false sense of security, and think that the police can handle it. In most of these situations the police can only handle the after affects, or damage control after people have been shot. If there had been some one with training, or even a few people willing to try and stop him, numbers could have easily held him down and kept the injury rate lower. Of cource it is easy to say afterwards, but most people will freeze up, and I would rather die trying/doing something.

    • I completely agree that training is paramount we must keep in mind, the average joe has little to no way of training his mind how to react to these types of situations. Your initial reaction is always key. I just hope people dont think because they went to the range they are trained. At the very least you need to play scenario mind games like some athletes do to prepare mentally. I have used this technique exstensively for my combat deployments and it has served me very well.

  5. “•Avoid opening night events
    •Avoid sold out shows and concerts
    •Avoid high profile events and politically charged rallies”

    I don’t care for being among a multitude of people, for a number of reasons, but the potential for an active shooter scenario is not and never will be one. I mean the day I don’t go see a movie on opening night that I’m psyched for because some guy might storm into the theatre blazing, is the day I save him a few rounds and go lay down in the street.
    There needs to be some sort of quality of life, some enjoyment and recreation when it is there to be had. I would hate to think some, many are already bugging in and missing out on things they enjoy that they might not be able to, in the near future.
    I think in general the tactical mindset sometimes over-scrutinizes things to the point of ridiculous. Some personalities need that structure. A lot of us need to remind ourselves to live a little while the living’s good.If some consider it living dangerously to hang out in public for any length of time on occasion, I mean so be it. Otherwise, what are we surviving for? Another day in the life of a SHU inmate in Pelican Bay? Just my thoughts.

    The section on ‘Attack’ I would expand on a little bit more. But a good point I cannot comprehend people not understanding. How fight or flight hits pause in many people, frozen with terror and surrealism, their minds crying out for divine intervention. Those trained have a definate leg up, but also, those who have been exposed to and now desensitized to violence and death (be it a soldier, criminal, victim, you name it) less likely to skip a beat. even for those, a nameless random stranger murdered before you in a chorus of horrified screams and stunned silence, and stampede of folks literally trampling each other for their very lives with targets on their backs, well that guy you never met getting killed is a lot different than your girlfriend getting cut off mid-sentence with the sound of a popping paper bag and her brain tissue splashing the side of your face. Be realistic of how messed up something like this is, now in your mental preparations. I imagine you’d see things you could never forget. however you proceed, time is of the essense.

    Some specific sugestions I would have regarding training and weapons,as always get off the X, the use of improvised/weapons of opportunity (Anyone will move their head to avoid a bucket of popcorn or box of ju-ju’s hurled in its direction. a half second OODA reset could buy you enough time to live vs. die). Maybe instead of a <10 oz. .380, carry a pistol you can hit with, and preferably have good marksmanship at a distance with (modern combat/defensive shooting tends to do away with this which is usually spot on in the real world; this is one exception where it could come in handy in your repetoir)and body armor drills at that. As always, disarming skills and combative/ hand to hand proficiency. It may not even be a bad idea to discuss and come up with a plan with frequent companions or family…similar to fire or weather evac plans/drills, but alsosomething like, you scan that row of seats, your buddy takes the periodic 6:00 glance (or more often when there is distressed or excited voices,commotion in another area) etc.

    Paramount- mindset of there is nothing to lose. No matter how much you don't want something to be happening, it will and you need to decide and act on it. The most dangerous move in this case, is not making one.
    In the long run, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.

    • One other tactical point I wanted to make, not as a suggestion or to advocate anything illegal, but you know, rule #1 have a gun, better to have and not need, you know. If you choose to recognize gun-free zones, in that case, yes, it might be a good idea. I won’t go on and on or create any controversy, just saying it seems silly to me that folks get carry permits, then lock their iron in the car at work for 8+ hours (which BTW is usually just as bad, parking lots are still employer’s premises), half their waking life unprotected.
      Getting fired for bringing a piece to work has pretty bad, long term consequences, as do criminal charges for carrying dirty. i imagine wearing a gun in a business forbidding same might cause a CCW to be revoked, and perhaps the gun confiscated. For myself, I do not let laws or regulations interfere with personal safety or security. in this case I don’t think anyone will ever know unless I need it, and in that case think public opinion might override prosecution.People are fed up.

      Anyway, just a final thought, again I do not encourage anything in this regard for others,

    • Thank you. I am NOT going to let the domestic terrorists win out by stopping my life’s pursuits. And yeah, DOMESTIC TERRORISTS are what those shootings are. This is not s default bs stance of Oh, they’re mentally ill. I’m so sick of that cop out. Call them for what they are and treat and prosecute them accordingly. This is, primarily, homegrown asshats that follow some violent or toxic rhetoric. I’m going to live my life. I, sadly, now have to assess every location for possible places to dodge, take cover, hide, etc.

  6. Something got cut off the end of my original reply, that is,speaking of mindset, in a world where people dress as comic book villians and shoot strand shoot strangers in dozens, children even. If you’re reading this survival is a priority in life. I feal intregal to that is really knowing, that at some point, it will be a wrap for you. To prepare for this, by having your affairs in order (even those in their twenties), and strong conviction with religious or spiritual beliefs, if any,relating to life after death, that may be all we can do to conquer that fear. Fear is what no doubt got a lot of those people shot.

  7. “Trust your gut.” On 9-11 many people were in the process of evacuating the south WTC tower when security told them to return to their offices. They meekly did as they were told and and died after the tower was attacked.

  8. Good article. I worked in the area, re 9-11. The minute the second plane hit, myself and some fellow workers were out the door. There was no direction from supervisors, so myself and another coworker immediately started walking up Broadway. Had we stuck around we would have been caught up in that dust from both Towers when they fell.

  9. Current training for active shooter scenarios in a classroom environment (ie: Columbine) is for EVERYONE to THROW SOMETHING at the attacker. Popcorn and sodas. Purses. Books. Phones. Shoes. Whatever is available. While it probably won’t physically harm the attacker, it can blind, confuse, cause to duck, etc which maybe, just maybe, will distract the attacker long enough for someone to tackle him.

  10. My local newspaper suggests my grade school kid’s teacher “in the event of an active shooter in the building lock the door, turn out the lights and hide”. Your article was waaaay better. Have the kids hop out the first floor window and run away from the building. School shooters seem to expect sitting ducks. Kids can run. What would you want your kids to do?

  11. The barricade/hide option is garbage and will get you killed. If you can’t escape, you’re better of engaging the shooter than hiding/barricading yourself in a room.

    • Cant agree more, I see no point in sitting and waiting to die when you can get as many people out as possible and just maybe take the shooter out, its been proven way to may times that police will sit and wait for orders or in at least one instance hide away instead of making any attempt to end the situation.

  12. Just wait until the Red Flag Law is passed , you will all be safe. Just like the Gun Free Zone Law , 1968 Gun Control Act. AWB ect. Why did the common man not think of this already, just post a sign and the killer will say , oh well cannot kill at this place they have a sign posted no gun allowed. All the background checks really kept guns out of the killers hands. So now one more law and that will do it, we will all be safe. (SARCASM BTN ON)

  13. Very good article.
    I would like to see these gun free zones done away with as all they do is provide the criminal with an easy target, like shooting fish in a barrel.
    Everyone that has a concealed carry permit should be able to carry everywhere in their state since they have been vetted by the state and are the good guys with guns!

  14. Hard to tell where the best place to sit is- depends on the shooters intent , I guess. Years ago, as a young Marine, i was made aware of sitting locations. A bar we frequently patronized on Saturday night was held up at gunpoint. The robbers walked in at shot the person sitting nearest the door with his back to the door. Shot the patron in the head, died right there, to get everyone’s attention. THIS IS WHERE I ALWAYS SAT! I was not there that Saturday night. I now ALWAYS (if possible)sit with my back to the wall, where I can see the entrance.

  15. I served in Viet Nam and my military experience stays with me today. Now its out of habit I do things, like never sit with your back to the door, always be aware of your surroundings, look for an exit when you enter a building or mall. Like they said ,always be aware of your surroundings and trust your gut. All good avise and becomes habit as you go along.

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