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GUEST COLUMN: Unarmed civilians can subdue a mass shooter

October 13, 2015 Updated: October 13, 2015 at 4:06 am
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To hear some pundits tell it, Ben Carson is crazy or worse for suggesting that, if escape is impossible, unarmed civilians should attack a criminal who is trying to murder them. But what's crazy is that more politicians and journalists do not shout this common-sense advice from the rooftops.

Alon Stivi-a former member of Israel's special forces, a security consultant, and an instructor of law enforcement in counterterrorism - said Carson's message "is what I've been telling people, and teaching people how to do, for 10 years."

This year, I had the opportunity to attend one of Stivi's workplace safety classes in Grand Junction. My father Linn often works with Stivi in western Colorado to instruct office personnel, teachers, local government employees, and law enforcement officers in tactics of workplace safety and counter-terrorism.

One of the things we did during this class was participate in simulated attacks. In one scenario, an attacker (in this case my unfortunate father) entered a room, and the rest of us formed two-person teams to tackle him. One person focused on controlling the arms and weapon and driving the attacker to the ground; the other person focused on collapsing the attacker's knees from behind. In another scenario, an attacker opened fire in a crowd, and those close by mass-tackled him.

Of course, attacking the perpetrator is a last resort, only when it is impossible to safely flee the area, barricade a safe room, or effectively hide. But if escape is impossible and an attacker is about to kill you, often attacking the perpetrator is the only way to increase the odds of survival.

Stivi instills practical knowledge and skills, not pie-in-the-sky optimism. Indeed, although one might not know it from many of the media criticisms of Carson's remarks, the sort of advice that Stivi offers is common knowledge among experts in the field.

To view a variety of videos on the subject from such organizations as the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and Texas State University's Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Program, search for "survive an active shooter" on YouTube. Also search for "survival measures by Alon Stivi."

Even the New York Times recognizes the importance of unarmed civilian response. A 2013 article notes that generally "police departments . . . recommend fleeing, hiding or fighting in the event of a mass attack, instead of remaining passive and waiting for help."

A 2013 report published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation examines 160 mass shootings and finds that, in 21 cases, "the situation ended after unarmed citizens safely and successfully restrained the shooter." The report adds, "Of note, 11 of the incidents involved unarmed principals, teachers, other school staff and students who confronted shooters to end the threat." Hopefully with better knowledge and training, more people can actively respond to such a threat when necessary.

For an idea of how unarmed civilians can effectively subdue an attacker, consider three recent cases:

- On Sept. 30, an armed student entered Harrisburg High School in South Dakota. After the attacker shot the principal in the arm, the assistant principal, Ryan Rollinger, "tackled the teenage shooter and held him down with help from another staff member until police arrived," reports the Argus Leader.

- On April 27, "A teacher in Washington state helped prevent what could have been a deadly school shooting when he tackled and restrained the suspect," reports the Huffington Post. "The teacher and a school resource officer held the suspect until police arrived."

- On Aug. 21, two French men and three Americans subdued a murderous jihadist who was armed with "an AKM assault rifle with 270 rounds of ammunition, a 9mm handgun, a box-cutter and a bottle of gasoline," the Associated Press reports. After the Americans tackled the attacker, two others helped restrain him as one of the Americans beat the attacker unconscious.

As Stivi summarized, "We are conditioned to dial 911 and wait, but, in the case of an active shooter, that does not work. Most casualties occur within the first 10 or 15 minutes, and police response usually is too late. Time is always the key factor, and immediate, successful response is critical for survival."


Ari Armstrong blogs at, where a more detailed version of this article appears.

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