An active shooter is defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as "an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a conﬁned and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use ﬁrearm[s] and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims." Within the last five years, there have been at least 14 prominent, high-casualty producing active shooter incidents. Most of these cases have occurred in locations where the shooter has been undeterred and unobstructed from carrying out their attack. The incident locations have often been described as soft targets with limited active security measures or armed personnel to provide protection for members of the public. In most instances, shooters have either taken their own lives, been shot by police, or surrendered when forced with a confrontation by law enforcement. According to New York City Police Department (NYPD) statistics, 46 percent of active shooter incidents are ended by the application of force by police or security, 40 percent end in the shooter’s suicide, 14 percent of the time the shooter surrenders or, in less than 1 percent of cases, the violence ends with the attacker fleeing.
The definition of active shooter includes so-called "school shootings" and "snipers", but not usually suicide bombers. Active shooters have caused a paradigm shift in law enforcement training and tactics, as victims are not necessarily expected to escape or even survive these situations.
Described as “social isolates” who “harbored feelings of hate and anger” active shooters often had some contact with mental health professionals. While a common factor, the functional role that mental illness plays in causing the massacre is indeterminate according to FBI analysis. In cases analyzed by the FBI very few of the shooters had "previous arrests for violent crimes, though many had encountered a significant emotional hardship prior to the attack such as loss of significant relationships, changes in financial status, loss of a job, changes in living arrangements, major adverse changes to life circumstances, and/or feelings of humiliation or rejection on the part of the shooter.”
The killing spree
Active shooters initiate their "killing spree" most often in populated areas using firearm(s), and display no pattern or method for selection of their victims. There are cases where active shooters have used improvised explosive devices to cause not only additional victimization but also act as an impediment to law enforcement and emergency service responders. Active shooter incidents (ASI) demand immediate deployment of law enforcement resources in order to stop the shooting and prevent further victimization. While the location of the "spree" may be selected in advance, the U.S.Department of Homeland Security (DHS) states; In many cases, there is no pattern or method to the selection of victims by an active shooter, and these situations are by their very nature unpredictable and evolve quickly. Research has determined that aggressive action — by even a single police officer — is the most effective countermeasure in stopping the active shooter. Active shooter scenarios leave little room for reasoning or negotiation. The agenda of the active shooter is straightforward: harm as many individuals as possible until cornered or captured by law enforcement. Escape is not typically a priority. In the majority of cases, active shooters have already decided that they will commit suicide.
DHS/Homeland Security has approached education and training for Active Shooter situations in two ways:
- by creating an online training module for non-law enforcement personnel; and
- by developing a training program for law enforcement and security personnel.
As active shooter incidents increase across the United States, organizations such as schools, government agencies, and private sector businesses are opting to have security experts provide threat and risk assessment services as well as some type of Active Shooter Response Training for their staff. On-location responders (school staff, faculty and campus security) play a crucial role during the initial moments of an attack, prior to law enforcement intervention, when most casualties occur (in the first 10 minutes). People on site that are properly trained can rapidly assess the threat, use cover and evacuate safely when possible, or barricade and hide from the shooter. Collective resistance tactics can be used as "Last Resort Survival Measures" to fight the shooter and take control of their weapon. Pre-incident training and preparations, when implemented, will save lives. According to New York City Police Department (NYPD) statistics, 46 percent of active shooter incidents are ended by the application of force by police or security, 40 percent end in the shooter’s suicide, 14 percent of the time the shooter surrenders or, in less than 1 percent of cases, the violence ends with the attacker fleeing. Other studies report that the vast majority of active shooters commit suicide soon after police arrive on the scene.
Several research reports have determined that aggressive action — by even a single police officer — is the most effective countermeasure in stopping the active shooter.
- "U.S. Department of Homeland Security Active Shooter Response" (PDf). Active Shooter Booklet.
- "The Active Shooter Threat" (PDF). MSA Special Analysis.
- Scanlon, James J. (July–August 2001). "Active Shooter Situations: What do we do now?!!". North American SWAT Training Association.
- Northwestern University. "Safety guidelines for active shooters on campus". Retrieved 2013-02-27.
- Homeland Security. "Active Shooter Preparedness". DHS. Retrieved 2013-02-27.
- "Police One, Ohio Trainer Makes the Case for Single Officer Entry Against Active Killers".
- HighbeamResearch. "Fort Campbell Prepares for Active Shooter". US Fed News Service. Retrieved 2013-02-26.
- Stivi, Alon (October 2012). "Last Resort: when an active shooter goes on a rampage, employ these survival measures". Beckett Media LLC.
- "MACTAC-NextGen Active Shooter response".