Mass shootings in the US have become a type of domestic terrorism and, while it's still quite rare to get caught up in an active shooter event, if it does happen, it's vital to be prepared.
This article defines what an active shooter is and provides several high-profile examples of active shooter from recent history.
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Defining The Active Shooter
The US Department of Homeland Security officially defines an "active shooter" as "an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area".
Active shooters use firearms with the aim of killing as many people as possible. While some are motivated by personal/ideological grievances or hatred for certain social groups, when they go on a rampage, these individuals don't select specific victims: they aim for quantity and tend to shoot anyone who gets in their sights, often ending in
Quite a few of the active shooter incidents end up in a shooter suicide.
Typical Active Shooter Situations
In the meanwhile, there is no standard legal definition of what constitutes a "mass shooting".
The Violence Project, a research organization funded by the National Institute for Justice (the official government organization in charge of research, development & evaluation for the US Department of Justice), defines mass shootings as singular events in which 4+ people are killed (excluding the shooter), that take place in a public location like a school, store, or office building. The Violence Project does not count domestic violence shootings because that is a separately motivated crime that does not fit the randomness that defines the actions of mass shooters who attack schools, movie theaters, sporting events, etc.
Psychological Profile of Active Shooters
Nearly every active shooter incident in US history has been committed male perpetrators of various backgrounds.
The Violence Project was able to outline four common traits among the predominant majority of active shooters:
They had experienced trauma/exposure to violence in childhood.
They had been at a noticeable crisis point (usually linked to a specific grudge/grievance) in the weeks/months leading up the lash-out.
They have researched previous mass shootings, and many of them became radicalized via the internet.
They had obtained the firearm(s) with the express intent to carry out the plan.
To that last point, the Violence Project found that workplace shooters tended to use their own legally acquired guns, while other public shooters mostly use unlawfully obtained firearms. It has also been speculated that in most cases (80%!) of school shootings, the shooter got the firearm from family members.)
Not All Mass Killers Use Firearms
A typical mass killer uses firearms, but it should be noted that there are some that use bladed weapons -- with the same intention as active shooters -- to "take out" as many victims as possible, at random. In such cases, the perpetrator may be referred to as an "active killer" or an "active assailant".
Examples Of Active Shooters in Recent History
On April 20, 1999, Americans stared at their TVs in horror and disbelief as the Columbine Highschool in Littleton, Colorado, was being gunned down by two seniors from that very school -- resulting in the murder of 12 students and 1 teacher, with 24 others wounded. Both shooters committed suicide at the end of their rampage.
Since then, mass shootings of schools' other public events/spaces have become increasingly more common. Just to name a handful:
Las Vegas, Nevada, 2017: 58 dead, 850+ injured in the deadliest mass shooting in the US to date, when a gunman unleashed fire on concertgoers attending the Route 91 Harvest festival from the 32nd-floor room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. The gunman had used a large arsenal of weapons modified to shoot like automatic rifles; in the end, he took his own life.
Orlando, Florida, 2016: a gunman opened fire inside the Pulse gay nightclub, resulting in 49 fatalities and 58 injuries. After a 3-hour standoff, the 29-year-old assailant was killed by the police. As it was believed to be a politically motivated incident, it was treated as a terrorist attack by the FBI.
Aurora, Colorado, 2012: at the premiere of "Dark Knight Rises", a man dressed in tactical gear, tear-gassed the movie theater and then opened fire on the 400 people inside. 12 moviegoers were killed, with 70 more injured. The gunman was captured by the police; he left his apartment rigged with explosives.
Uvalde TX, 2022: one of the most recent mass shooting tragedies was carried out at the Robb Elementary School, when an 18-year-old man fatally shot 19 small children and 2 teachers, wounding 17 others with an AR-15-style rifle, before he was fatally shot by a US Border Patrol unit. This incident has received notable negative press for a botched response by the local law enforcement.
A Proper Active Shooter Response Requires Training
Active shooter situations can happen "out of the blue", can change/evolve quickly, and can last as little time as 10-15 minutes, ending before the police officers arrive on the scene.
In order to protect oneself -- or possibly even stop the shooter and minimize the threat/damage to the community -- an immediate (thought-out and practiced) response by community members already on the scene can make all the difference.
When an active shooter event happens, it is impossible to think clearly on the spot: if we are not mentally ready, our fear and sense of helplessness can be paralyzing. So, it is very important to prepare in advance with active shooter resources and plan.
Check out EasyLlama's guidelines for active shooter response -- and consider signing up your employees for EasyLlama's active shooter response e-training!
Written by: Maria Malyk