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Police Research Finds Victims Who Stand Their Ground Are Effective Against Active Shooters

April 9, 2013 by  

Police Research Finds Victims Who Stand Their Ground Are Effective Against Active Shooters

The leader of a national police support organization believes there’s been a “sea change” in the approach many law enforcement agencies are taking when it comes to telling people how best to respond when they’re confronted by an armed threat.

In a weekend piece in The New York Times, Chuck Wexler, who heads the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), said high-profile mass murders have encouraged many local law enforcement officials to tell the public that taking matters into your own hands to neutralize a threat is often more effective than dialing 911 and waiting for help to arrive.

“There’s a recognition in these ‘active shooter’ situations that there may be a need for citizens to act in a way that perhaps they haven’t been trained for or equipped to deal with,” he told The Times. That need is a manifestation of the public’s growing rejection of a long-prevailing maxim that victims ‘don’t get involved; call 911,’” as Wexler said.

His remarks were supported with research by Texas State University that revealed regular people often have been successful in defusing a bad situation by defending themselves, either by stopping an attack with force and waiting for police to take over or by shooting the perpetrator outright.

According to Texas State’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center (ALERRT), the idea that average people must take responsibility for one’s safety — whether armed or unarmed — is finally gaining currency among many Americans who, in the past, looked only to the cops for Johnny-on-the-spot assistance.

According to the study, 49 percent of “active shooter” attacks targeting multiple victims between 2000 and 2010 were over with before police arrived at the scene. And, in those instances, victims who stood their ground against their attackers had a similar success rate at stopping the attack as police did in cases when they were able to engage the suspect.

In the 41 (out of 84 total) events that ended before police arrived, the attacker killed himself in 21 cases and fled in four more. When victims decided to take action against the shooters, “the potential victims at the attack site stopped the attacker themselves in 16 cases,” the study notes, 13 times by physically overcoming the attacker and three times by shooting him.

That compares relatively well with the way these types of shootings ended when police took on the suspects:

When the attack ended after the police arrived, the attacker was about equally likely to stop the attack himself (by surrendering or committing suicide) as he was to be stopped by police use of force. The attacker committed suicide in 13 instances and surrendered in 6. The police shot the attacker to resolve the event in 17 cases and subdued the attacker using other methods in 7.

Other instances studied, such as the 2007 Virginia Tech University shooting, demonstrate that, at the very least, would-be victims who aren’t armed can still dramatically improve their chances of living through an attack by taking evasive action or putting up defensive resistance.

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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