911 isn’t a self defense strategy

One of the key points of disagreement between pro-gunners and anti-gunners is on the concept of whether or not it is necessary, or even appropriate, for an “average” citizen to have ready access to a lethal weapon in case they are attacked. Anti-gunners often hold that the proper course of action when one is threatened by another is to call the police and let them deal with the problem. To the average person this might sound like a perfectly reasonable answer, but it really isn’t. The giant hole in the anti-gunner self defense plan is that even the best police response is going to be minutes out in a situation where seconds define the boundaries between life and death.

Sunday morning I had to deal with a trespasser with a long documented history of vagrancy, mental health issues, and most worryingly, violence. A police officer who did a check on the man described him as, and I quote, “a psycho”. I had a plan for dealing with the guy and calling the police the second he showed any hostile behavior was a prominent feature of this plan. It was not, however, my only plan. I knew that if the man got violent it was going to be my problem while we waited for police response. We did end up having to call the police, and the officers who responded (3 cruisers including a supervisor) were polite, professional, helpful…and arrived several minutes after the guy left.

This week the FBI released a detailed report about active shooter scenarios. I encourage you to follow this link and read it for yourself, as it contains all sorts of data about where active shooter events take place and how they tend to develop. I found it interesting that nearly half of these events take place in commercial spaces, and that commercial spaces and educational spaces have been the target of almost 3/4 of these attacks. The most significant part of the report, in my mind, was the “resolutions” section. I’ll reproduce it here:

“The majority of the 160 incidents (90 [56.3%]) ended on the shooter’s initiative—sometimes when the shooter committed suicide or stopped shooting, and other times when the shooter fled the scene. There were at least 25 incidents where the shooter fled the scene before police arrived. In 4 additional incidents, at least 5 shooters fled the scene and were still at large at the time the study results were released. In other incidents, it was a combination of actions by citizens and/or law enforcement that ended the shootings. In at least 65 (40.6%) of the 160 incidents, citizen engagement or the shooter committing suicide ended the shooting at the scene before law enforcement arrived.”

In other words, in the sizeable majority of active shooter incidents the event was over before police ever arrived on the scene. Keep in mind that an active shooter call gets the highest priority police response. When that call goes out police departments (in the US, at least) drop everything and get to the scene as quickly as possible. Even so, in the majority of situations priority police response to a mass-casualty event was still too late. Remember: I’m not saying that. The FBI is saying that. This is fact, not a talking point.

The only answer to an active shooter is force. The only way to limit the casualties inflicted by an active shooter is to apply that force immediately. The only way to do that is to have armed individuals among the intended victims of the attack…which is why, in the aftermath of the horrific events at Sandy Hook the NRA proposed putting school resource officers in every school. The NRA was mocked, you’ll recall, for proposing the idea as all the leading lights in society scoffed…but the NRA’s proposal was based on the same sort of sober analysis of these events mirrored in this FBI report. About a year after the horror at Newtown, another malevolent narcissist tried to pull off a massacre in Arapahoe High School…and he was engaged by gunfire from a school resource officer less than 90 seconds after he started shooting.

The politicians who like to mock the NRA and blame them for all the violence that takes place in our society conveniently ignore the fact that the NRA has a significant role in training police officers across our nation. Drawing on accumulated data and the combined experience of a lot of law enforcement professionals the NRA proposed making school resource officers standard everywhere. The leading lights of society proposed irrelevant legislation and a hashtag campaign.

The FBI report notes that actions by citizens on scene have limited the duration of active shooter events. Incidents like the attack at the New Life church in Colorado or the shooting at the Apalachian Law School were brought to a halt quickly by armed citizens who intervened quickly enough to limit the damage done by the criminal vermin.

There are, of course, more types of violent crime than active shooters looking to rack up a body count…but consider what this information tells us about police response to other types of violent crime. If the police usually can’t get there in time to stop a mass killing, what are the odds they’re going to be there in time to stop more pedestrian forms of violence directed at you? The factors that prevent police from being able to stop an active shooter before he/she has racked up a body count are just as much in play when there’s just one guy trying to do harm to just little ol’ you…and where a mass casualty event gets priority police response, a dude threatening you with harm might not get the same level of police response.

…and that presumes that you are in a position to summon police assistance in the first place, which is hardly guaranteed. In the cell phone era if four men burst into a mall with rifles and hand grenades intent on slaughtering as many people as possible it’s highly likely that multiple people will dial 911. What about the lone coed being plied with alcohol by someone intent on doing her harm? What about the guy at the ATM who is targeted by a violent criminal intent on robbery? What about the gas station attendant who is outnumbered 3 to 1?

I’m not maligning police forces in the US, nor am I arguing that 911 is a joke. There is a time and place when dialing 911 is the correct response to a problem…but 911 is not a substitute for taking effective action on your own.

You are, ultimately, on your own. At least for as long as it will take to determine the outcome for you and perhaps others. The good news is that with the right knowledge and a little bit of equipment you can make a world of difference:



  1. The police, first and foremost, have the responsibility to protect themselves, not the citizen. Self protection is the citizen’s responsibility.

    Justices Rule Police Do Not Have a Constitutional Duty to Protect Someone

    Published (NY Times): June 28, 2005

    WASHINGTON, June 27 – The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm, even a woman who had obtained a court-issued protective order against a violent husband making an arrest mandatory for a violation.

    1. If it says so–it must be true. The problem is–Supreme Court judges are presidential appointees, and too Old, and out of touch with the people their suppossed to. I find BIg Money rules the Scene; everything else second fiddle. Where and who does their true commitment lie. If you eliminate donuts; and personal family shuttles–Lickety Split.

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