Mass Shootings: Taking Cover in a Grocery Store (Part 1 & 2)

When you’re out in public, like at the grocery store, chances are you try to be aware of your surroundings to help minimize potential threats. But when you put tactics aside, what products on the grocery store shelves can help your chances of survival against rounds fired? Paul Harrel takes on the question of taking cover in a grocery store in a multi-video series, and he produces some interesting outcomes.

Paul Harrell discusses taking cover in a grocery store mass shooting.
Paul Harrell takes on the question of what items on the grocery store shelves would help give you cover in an active shooter situation in the store.

Taking Cover in a Grocery Store, Part One

First and foremost, Paul stresses that his video is not about the tactics of the situation, but just about what kind of cover protection you can glean from the items around you in the grocery store. Before he gets into specifics though, he points out the difference between cover and concealment. He also recommends that you check out a video called Run. Hide. Fight. as a person with no duty to act (he stresses that a lot).

Starting with the evaluation of the store, the shelves themselves are pretty flimsy and lack any hard structure that would slow down a bullet. With that in mind, for taking cover you really need to focus on the actual products on the shelf and not the shelf itself. So he bought a variety of items and headed out to the range to test them out.

Testing Bullet Resistance

Two big misconceptions are that fiberglass and winter clothing make good bullet stops. Paul shot his .25 ACP Baby Browning against fiberglass insulation with a soda bottle behind to simulate a body and all rounds went through. Conclusion — insulation is not a bullet stop.

To test out the winter clothes idea he used 40 layers of fleece and shot it from five yards. When the bottle was placed in front of the fleece, the bullet didn’t penetrate the fleece. However, when the fleece was in front, the bullet went through roughly 35 layers of fleece. After the .25 ACP, he upped his firepower to a 9mm. The bullet had no problem going through the fleece and into the bottle behind it. It’s safe to say that winter clothing or fleece layers are not as good of a bullet stop as people think.

After the fleece, Paul moved on to cereal boxes. He lined up six boxes of different kinds of cereal and again shot it with the Browning. The second and third rounds penetrated the boxes, thus having him conclude that they are not good bullet stops. Paul recommends avoiding taking cover behind items that are in boxes because a portion of the inside is filled with air. And as we all know, air doesn’t slow bullets.

Paul Harrell shooting through cereal boxes to see if they offer any effective cover from rounds fired.
While it may seem like common sense to some, using items that are in boxes as a cover option isn’t a good idea. Paul stresses that the boxes contain air and that doesn’t help slow anything down.

How does ammunition choice affect this?

Paul went on to say that there are a lot of misconceptions about projectile capabilities in addition to the items cover abilities. In his research, he found that the perpetrators of the shootings were more likely to use higher-powered rounds like 5.56 NATO or 9x19mm ammunition so that’s what he used in the second set of tests. For the 9mm he used Magtech 124gr FMJ ammunition and for the 5.56 NATO he used IMI 5.56 NATO 55gr FMJ ammunition.

Toilet paper was the first up to be tested with the higher power rounds. He lined up six rows of it with soda bottles behind and shot from seven yards. Three of the five 9mm rounds went through all the paper but there were signs that it slowed down the rounds. For the 5.56, all bullets penetrated through to the bottles behind with no slowing of the rounds.

shot fired through toilet paper to see if it makes a good cover in mass shooting at a grocery store
Paul shot through six rolls of toilet paper to illustrate its bullet resistance. As you can see, it doesn’t do much to stop the bullets.

Next, he moved on to cases of Chef Boyardee and green beans. He shot two rounds of the 9mm, and both had enough penetration to reach the bottles behind the cases. Interestingly, the 5.56 decimated the cans, but no rounds actually struck the bottles. Paul concluded that if the shooter was using 55gr 5.56 ammunition (which is the most popular option to shoot), you could survive a few rounds if you were behind enough cases of canned goods.

People always talk about water being a good deflector of projectiles, or at least a good bullet stop, so Paul lined up four layers of gallons of water with the soda bottle behind. The 9mm round went straight through and did not stop. The 5.56 round blasted apart the jugs, but the soda bottle was left intact. Paul stated that the third and fourth jugs dissipated enough energy from the round to slow or deflect the round.

Paul’s major takeaways from the first video:

1. Things that people think have a good stopping power action don’t.
2. While 5.56 is more powerful, 9mm can get better penetration in certain mediums.
3. A lot of items on the shelf have a stopping power of next to nothing (cereal boxes).
4. Some items have less bullet resistance or short-lived resistance (cans).

Taking Cover in a Grocery Store, Part Two

Since the first video generated so many comments and questions for Paul, he decided to do a second video to cover a few more items and to reiterate a couple of key points.


Paul starts this second video by recommending again that people watch the video Run. Hide. Fight. This time, however, he stresses that people need to keep in mind that the video is not perfect, it’s made for people who are not duty-bound to act in an active shooter situation, and it’s directed toward an audience that is presumably unarmed. Keeping those points in mind, he feels that it’s worth the watch. Additionally, he stresses that the video is strictly about the bullet resistance of items on grocery store shelves and not a discussion of tactics.

Paul headed into the store to cover a couple of points. People on the first video said that the dairy case would be a good option, but you can’t really get into them, and they aren’t a good place to hide. Other commenters suggested hiding behind liquids like large end cap displays. While he said that may be a good idea, it would have to be a perfect scenario that you would be able to accomplish that successfully. The other place he showed in the video was the freezer section. While the freezer has more bulk to it, it still doesn’t present a great bullet resistance, unless that freezer is full of frozen turkeys.

Paul Harrell says the freezer section isn't that good of a place for taking cover unless its full of turkeys
Some commenters in the original video suggested taking cover in the freezer section. Paul says that while the freezer has more bulk than the regular shelves, it wouldn’t provide much cover unless the freezers were full of frozen turkeys.

Why does Paul include .25 ACP in these tests?

The next point of clarification that Paul wanted to discuss was his use of a .25 ACP Baby Browning. He wanted to use his Baby Browning because it’s a pretty low power round and if it penetrated the item, then it’s safe to assume that a higher power round would have no problem with penetration. He reiterated that if the .25 ACP round, which is ballistically similar to a .22lr shot out of a short barrel, penetrated an item, said item has next to no resistance properties.

Then he took up the next point that he should have shot Grape-Nuts cereal instead of the other kinds. In true Paul Harrell fashion, he set up the test of six boxes of Grape Nuts and shot it from five yards. The rounds made it into the third box but not into the fourth. He decided to up his power and shoot the boxes with the 9mm. The round penetrated the boxes but didn’t enter the
bottles thus demonstrating that Grape-Nuts have a higher bullet resistance than the other cereals.

Another item that commenters said he should have tried was sugar. He set up sugar bags and shot them with the same firearms as in the first round of testing. The 9mm rounds were stopped by the second bag of sugar. For the 5.56 NATO, a few rounds made it into the third bag but not into the fourth. Paul concluded that sugar is quite bullet resistant.

Paul Harrell testing the bullet resistance of sugar bags.
In the second part of the series, Paul tested the bullet resistance of bags of sugar. Surprisingly it is a good bullet stop.

The final test was on bags of flour. He set it up like the sugar and fired into it. The 9mm had one round hit the soda bottles from deflection but had no power left. For a 9mm, the flour isn’t as good as the sugar but still an OK cover. For the 5.56 NATO, no round made it past the fourth bag.

testing the bullet resistance of flour
In the final test, Paul set up bags of flour. While it wasn’t as good as the sugar, the flour also provided good coverage. He did warn that the aisle that the flour and sugar are found in also has a lot of boxed goods so that’s something to take into account as well.

Paul’s final take-aways from the second round of testing are as follows

1. Grape nuts are good cereal and bullet resistant.
2. Flour and sugar are surprisingly bullet resistant. But the aisle they are found like with cake mixes which are in boxes and have lots of air in them.
3. Watch the Run. Hide. Fight. video and remember the qualifiers he laid out earlier.
4. This is not about tactics — just bullet resistance of items in grocery shelves and feasibility of taking cover with them.

Hopefully, this gave you some insight on how to take cover in a grocery store in the event of a shooting. Stay safe and keep your guard up.

Patti Miller is one of the most awesome females in the tactical/firearm (or any) industry. Imagine a tall, hawt, dangerous Laura Ingalls Wilder type with cool hair and a suppressed blaster and you'll be getting the idea. What's interesting is that in addition to being a willing brawler and intrepid adventuress, she's also an Ent/Ogier level gardener and a truly badass baker.

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