Active Shooter Training: Are You Training for The Unthinkable?

In the law enforcement world, training is a regular part of the job. You respond to calls, take reports, and attend training. Minimum training standards are set by each state and each agency dictates what training its staff must attend beyond the required minimum. One of the most common training events that all law enforcement officers now attend is active shooter training.

It’s unfortunate that we live in a world where people are intent on killing innocent people. But the fact is, people can be violent, and we must train to respond to that violence. As we conduct active shooter training, our most common participants are schools — both the staff and often students.

The thing I believe is lacking, however, is active shooter training for law-abiding citizens, especially those who carry concealed weapons. While active shooters have targeted schools in the past, they also target other locations. Churches, malls, movie theaters, retail stores, and other places have been targeted. The truth is, if you go anywhere in public, a shooting could happen.

If you carry a firearm for protection, range training should already be something you do. But firing your gun is just the beginning. Active shooter training is specific to the action of responding, not just shooting. And everyone should perform active shooter training. You can even conduct this training on your own if no one in your area is holding it. Here are some things to think about when conducting active shooter training.

Tools and People for Active Shooter Training

When you conduct active shooter training, you’re not focusing as much on the shooting as you are the response. The range keeps you accurate and familiar with your firearm. You can conduct active shooter training without any training guns if needed. Law enforcement often uses simulation rounds that function just like real firearms.

These are expensive however and hard to find. Airsoft guns are the easiest and cheapest type of training guns for active shooter training. Our agency uses them on a regular basis because they are cheap and effective for this purpose. Safety glasses are needed when using airsoft so don’t forget to cover your eyes. If possible, try finding an airsoft gun that fits in the holster you wear regularly.

Airsoft guns for training.
Airsoft guns are a great tool for active shooter training. This deputy is carrying both an AR-15 and a Glock pistol airsoft. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
If you know someone who can video the training event, it’s beneficial to review your response afterward. We find that we learn as much from the debriefing and video footage as we do from the actual training events. If you have enough people in your training group to role-play, this is an important part of the training. You need at least one person to play the bad guy, and the more people to play bystanders the better.

Being creative when setting up active shooter drills is easier when you have plenty of people to help carry out the training. Use any items you carry daily. Flashlights are fine if you carry one normally. I wouldn’t wear your survival vest and ballistic helmet for this type of training. The point is to train for responding in a public place with any gear you normally carry.

Locations for Training

This is where training needs to be creative. I have trained in schools so many times I couldn’t count how many. But how often do agencies or citizens conduct active shooter training outside of schools? What if you are sitting in a restaurant, or buying Cheetos at the store when a shooting erupts? Use any facility that you can for training. A person’s home can even be used if you can’t find any other locations.

Partnering with local business owners provides a good avenue for training events. A few examples include churches, retail stores, or even a field. With enough people, an active shooter scenario could simulate a crowd in a public place. Concerts, fairs, and tourist attractions are all places that draw large crowds and could be the target of an active shooter.

Active shooter training.
Active shooter training provides an insight you won’t get from the shooting range. Mix up your training. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
Just remember the location needs to be secluded enough that people not involved in the training event are not confused. When we train in schools, we make posts on social media sites and notify all the parents. This is so people do not get worried when they see so many emergency vehicles at a school.

If you train at a location where people not involved in the training see commotion and shooting (with airsoft guns), they may not understand what is happening. Just make sure there is no confusion during training events and anyone who can be notified, has been.

Active Shooter Training Scenarios

Once you have a location and are ready to train, think of some good training scenarios. For the most effective training, keep the details of the scenario hidden from those participating in the training. The participants need to be somewhat surprised by each event. If they know each time what is happening, the training is not as effective.

When we perform active shooter training in schools, deputies never know what is going on until they are “dispatched” to the school. Some events may include an active shooter that is in progress. Other scenarios start with a call telling deputies a shot was heard but no one knows what is going on. We also include scenarios of misunderstandings.

Active shooter training.
A Sheriff’s Deputy plays the role of the “shooter” during a training event. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
Maybe a person with a CCW is in public and someone saw their gun and called the police. One training event I attended for citizens had someone run to their car from a business to grab an item they forgot. In one event, the “bad guy” was waiting outside for them and started shooting in the parking lot.

This required the citizen to return fire while they were in the middle of retrieving an item from their car. Another scenario started with several shots being fired (from a blank) but when the helpful citizen ran around the corner to help, he found several people with guns. One was a bad guy and the other two were citizens trying to help.

Are you ready for the unthinkable?

We can never have enough training. We should train on the range, train with our gear, and train in events that are as realistic as possible. The use of airsoft guns allows us to practice drawing and firing at someone who is shooting back at us. Practice firing from your vehicle, clearing your own home, or maneuvering through a crowd of terrified people as you look for the shooter.

Shooting the Masada S9 9mm.
Self-defense requires more than just a gun. Medical training, firearms training, and mental preparedness are things to consider. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
The more your body goes through the motions, the better it will respond if the real thing should happen. It’s easy to buy a gun and carry it. But the responsible thing to do is train with that gun and make sure you are ready to use it if it is needed. A helpful citizen during an active shooter situation who never trains will likely be more of a hindrance than a help. Train for the unthinkable while you hope that training is never needed.

Sheriff Jason Mosher is a law enforcement generalist instructor as well as a firearms and tactical weapons trainer. Jason graduated from the FBI-LEEDA (Law Enforcement Executive Development Association) and serves as a Sheriff for his day job. When he’s not working, he’s on the range, eating steak, or watching Yellowstone.

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