An unarmed woman stops an active shooter; what that means, and what it doesn’t
Before I tell you about the brave woman who talked a school shooter into surrendering in Georgia last week, let me tell you a quick cop story.
Back in the mid-90’s I worked for a small police department in Southeast Texas. One of the officers there, “Rick”, was known for two things: being a smart-aleck, and having no concept of officer safety. One afternoon Rick received a call about shots being fired on a residential street. When he drove onto the street he saw residents standing in their yards looking toward the other end of the block. He drove further down the street until he saw a man and woman standing together in their front yard. So he pulled over, got out of his car and walked into their yard to ask if they had seen anything.
Around the time he stepped onto their grass, Rick noticed a couple of things: the woman was crying and hunched protectively over an infant. The man looked furious, almost out of control. He was behind the woman, had one arm wrapped tightly around her like he was holding her there. And in his other hand, he held a pistol in the air.
At this point, Rick should have recognized the horrible situation he had put himself in; the man could have opened fire at Rick, who wouldn’t have been able to return fire without hitting the woman and child. The irrational man could easily have killed Rick, his wife and the child. Rick should have drawn his weapon as he backpedaled to the cover of his patrol car. He should have ordered the man to drop the weapon. He should have gotten on the radio to call for backup.
Instead, Rick simply walked up to the man and said, “Give me the gun.” The man didn’t respond. Rick reached up and took the gun out of his hand, went back to the patrol car and locked it in the trunk. Then he walked back to the man and handcuffed him.
When I heard about this incident, I thought, That was the stupidest way any cop could ever have handled a shooting call. Later I found Rick at the station and asked him, “What the hell were you thinking?”
Rick dismissively answered, “I knew he wasn’t going to do anything. I already know I’m going to die in a plane crash some day, so I wasn’t worried about that guy.”
I couldn’t believe that Rick, or any cop for that matter, could have that mindset. I guess he figured, “It all turned out okay, so I must have done the right thing.” Rick later left the department to pursue a new career. In aviation.
What lessons did I learn from how Rick handled that shooting call? I learned not to drive into a call with my head up my [censored]. I learned to keep an eye out for the nearest cover. I learned that sometimes an officer can be an idiot, get lucky, and the situation still turns out alright. But I definitely didn’t learn from Rick how to handle a shooting call.
This week, much of America needs to learn something similar. Just because something turned out well, doesn’t mean it was handled well.
On August 20th, an unarmed bookkeeper named Antoinette Tuff stopped a school shooter by talking to him. The shooter, 20 year old Michael Hill, walked into a Georgia elementary school office with an AK and several hundred rounds, took Tuff and others hostage, and exchanged fire with police officers. Tuff talked to the shooter, expressed sympathy, gave critical information to the 911 operator while Hill fired at officers, and eventually convinced Hill to drop his weapon and surrender.
Over 800 students were in the school when Hill, apparently intent on mass murder, walked in. According to an article in the Huffington Post, Hill announced his intentions to the office staff and loaded his weapon in front of them. Yet, in the end, nobody was killed, nobody was wounded. Antoinette Tuff is being recognized as a hero. In my opinion, she absolutely is. When faced with what appeared to be a madman intent on mass murder, she had a choice: run and hide, or risk her life to engage the shooter in a sympathetic conversation. She chose to risk her life and talk to him. And it worked. She deserves all the praise she can get.
But no, that doesn’t mean all active shooter situations should be handled with unarmed empathy instead of armed self-defense.
Surprisingly, the Huffington Post’s story about the incident (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/22/antoinette-tuff_n_3792683.html) didn’t seem to have a “See? We don’t need armed teachers!” angle. Some comments to the story, on the other hand, are just what I expect from typical HP readers, and by extension much of the left.
Here’s a small sample of comments from HP:
“Interestingly, the usually vociferous gun advocates don’t seem to have much to say about a terrible situation averted using intelligence versus firepower.”
“A true hero. So much for Rush Limbaugh’s and the NRA’s childish and over-simplified contention that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
“Note to NRA……What stopped a bad guy with a gun was a good WOMAN WITH A HEART! What a concept…”
“I guess a little bit of love and understanding is more powerful than bullets.”
“How highly unAmerican. We shoot first and ask questions later round these parts.”
“Too bad SHE didn’t have a gun too, then this could have all been prevent…oh, wait.”
“Hey NRA how do you deal with a BAD guy with an assault weapon? With a GOOD person who is compassionate and has a brain.”
Get it? If you’re intelligent, you don’t need a weapon. Armed defense, even defense of children, is only for us dummies.
As an almost 20 year police officer and former active shooter instructor, I’d like to make a few points for anyone who believes Ms. Tuff showed us the “right” way to handle active shooters. To do this, I have to ask them to please put aside the desire to simply throw out a snide remark, and actually engage in critical thinking instead.
First, I’ll say this: Hill should have been shot as soon as he walked into that school. This may sound harsh, especially considering what we’ve discovered in hindsight. According to Hill’s family, he suffers from bipolar disorder and ADD. His words and actions to Ms. Tuff indicate to me that he wasn’t a violent sociopath hell-bent on mass murder, he was a troubled young man desperate for attention and sympathy (which Ms. Tuff provided). Hill was the kind of man who was receptive to dialogue, not the kind of guy who would only stop killing if he was killed himself.
But nobody knew that at the time. All anyone knew was that a man walked into a school with an AK and announced his desire to kill. If we as a nation allowed teachers to carry, or mandated armed police or security in schools, a good person with a weapon could have immediately engaged, and kept engaging until Hill was incapable of pulling a trigger.
In any potential active shooter situation, the suspect should be disabled through the use of lethal force as soon as the threat is recognized. No, that doesn’t mean we dump a magazine on anyone we think might do something dangerous. It does mean that if a 20 year old walks into an elementary school with an AK, we ask ourselves a few questions. Is there a good reason a 20 year should be in an elementary school with a rifle? Does the school have an AK marksmanship class this man teaches? Is there some school-sanctioned AK-47 event going on that day? Is there some reasonable, rational explanation for a troubled-looking (based on his booking picture and description) man to walk into a school with an AK? If the answer to those questions is no, then someone needs to make a reasonable, rational decision to respond with force.
In this case, Hill made the decision even easier by announcing his intention to kill and loading his weapon in front of the staff. If even one of the staff members had been armed, they could have drawn on Hill and engaged him before he loaded the rifle. But what happened instead? Hill was allowed to load the weapon and fire at will. Had he decided to do so, he could have killed a lot of people. The entire outcome was left in his hands, he had total control of the situation. The fact that he decided not to kill any students or staff, and failed to kill the police officers he shot at, doesn’t mean this incident is proof that teachers or staff shouldn’t be armed. It means he failed to carry out what he intended to do. It was the school shooting equivalent of the man who tried to blow up an airplane with an underwear bomb but only managed to set his genitals on fire. It’s objectively NOT a lesson on how to prevent school shootings in the future. As far as handling future active shooters, maybe we shouldn’t make plans that require the cooperation of the guy who’s trying to murder people.
Anyone who insists that this incident was solved by unarmed empathy alone needs a reality check. One aspect of this incident that keeps being ignored, or at least hasn’t gotten the attention it deserved in the press, is that police officers had closed distance on Hill and engaged him with gunfire. Hill was under pressure and facing death when he surrendered. If Hill was like the “typical” active shooter, once the threat of his death appeared (and not death at his own hands, which he would control), suddenly the fantasy was over. It wasn’t fun anymore. The police officers who fired at him may have pushed Hill to listen to Ms. Tuff’s voice of reason.
Finally – and this is a big one – we should consider the big picture. Rather than listening to rather immature voices crowing over the alleged victory of an unarmed woman over an active shooter, we should ask ourselves this: why, eight months after Newtown, was a mentally ill man able to walk unopposed into an elementary school with an AK? Why have we as a nation chosen to follow the same paths and policies that enabled the Newtown massacre?
Despite the anguished, indignant handwringing from the political left about gun control, even the strongest proponents of “tougher” gun laws acknowledged they wouldn’t work (witness VP Biden’s impromptu speech to supporters in the White House). We know that new gun control measures, even if they were implemented perfectly, would take years before having an effect. So why have huge portions of the government and public chosen to throw time and money behind symbolic efforts which, even if they had been passed, still wouldn’t have prevented Michael Hill from carrying an AK into a Georgia elementary school?
The answer to that is, of course, “blowing in the wind”. It’s all about the show, with no more impact than words from an old folk song. I don’t have a clue why someone would choose to make a statement rather than actually handle a problem. But I do know this: no law stopped Michael Hill from murdering people last week. A sympathetic woman, police officers with guns and Hill’s own failure of will did. Our children’s defense shouldn’t consist of the faint hope that a murderer will respond to kindness, any more than a police officer should expect an angry moron firing a pistol in the air beside his wife and child to peacefully give up his gun.
Those who point to last week’s incident as proof that homicidal violence can be defeated with kindness need more than just a proverbial hard slap across the face. They need to be ignored and their ridiculous words disregarded by rational people. The next time some pathetic aspiring mass murderer walks into a school with a rifle, he should be met by armed, trained staff who are willing to defend children with immediate lethal action. He shouldn’t be met by unarmed, hopeful leftists who truly believe their kind words can protect my children from a murderer’s gunfire.
Filed under: Cops | 33 Comments
Tags: active shooter, Antoinette Tuff, school shootings