Drive both palms forward into the side of the gun to deflect it.
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In recent years we have all become painfully familiar with the term “active shooter.” It’s already difficult to imagine a situation more terrifying than a heavily armed gunman on a rampage, and the closer you look at the details the more frightening these situations are.

According to the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin “Addressing the Problem of the Active Shooter” by Katherine W. Schweit, the average active-shooter incident lasts 12 minutes, with 37 percent of them lasting less than five minutes. Forty-three percent of the time, the incident is over before law enforcement arrives on the scene. When you consider these statistics along with the fact that many active shooters purposely target schools and other non-permissive environments where weapons are prohibited, you arrive at two very alarming truths: If you are unfortunate enough to be caught in an active-shooter situation, you are on your own, and, if you’re playing by the rules, you may have to face the shooter unarmed. These sobering facts emphasize the fact that we should all have the ability to disarm and disable an armed attacker using only empty-hand skills.

Before we examine specific skills and tactics, it’s important to define what we’re trying to accomplish. The popular media has mislead us with inaccurate, politically correct terminology. When we’re trying to model success, words often determine actions, so we want to model the “right” words.

A number of active-shooter incidents have been successfully stopped by brave citizens who have taken decisive action against the shooter. In describing these incidents, the media prefers terms like “tackling” or “overpowering” the gunman. To cultivate the proper mindset for your tactics, you shouldn’t think in these terms. We’re not playing football; we’re trying to stop an armed killer. And the only way to do that is with committed and effective violence. We want to “disable” the attacker so that he is physically incapable of continuing his plan, and we’re prepared to do that by any means possible.

When faced with an active shooter armed with a long gun, it’s imprortant to achieve decisive control quickly.
When faced with an active shooter armed with a long gun, it’s imprortant to achieve decisive control quickly.

Third-Party Concept

If you’ve done any martial arts or self-defense training, you may have had the opportunity to practice gun disarms. Typically, this is done in a first-person context that emphasizes the “self” part of self-defense. In other words, the attacker points the gun at you and you defend yourself by disarming him.

While this is a very worthwhile skill to have, and one that could be applicable in an active-shooter situation, don’t limit yourself to this perspective. In order for you to disarm an assailant armed with a gun you have to get close enough to put your hands on him. Against an active shooter, you don’t want to wait until he closes in on you, nor do you want to put yourself in the line of fire if you can possibly avoid it. Instead, your goal should be to stay out of the line of fire and use cover, concealment and movement to flank the shooter. Then, when the time is right, you attack him from an unexpected angle to disarm and disable him. To do this, you need to adapt your “first-person” gun disarm tactics to a “third-person” application. These tactics can then be used to save a specific person or group of people from a gunman in a variety of situations, including protective services and family defense plans.

Order Of Operations

In an active shooter scenario, it helps to take an “outcome-based” approach. By following a series of basic principles, rather that rote technique, you can adapt dynamically to any situation, maintain your focus, and learn to make the best use of your environment. To that end, here is the basic “order of operations” when disabling an active shooter empty handed:

  • 1. Stay out of the line of fire and use cover and concealment to your advantage.
  • 2. Have a basic understanding of weapons to maximize your chances of success.
  • 3. Approach the shooter from the flank or rear.
  • 4. Use speed, surprise and extreme violence of action.
  • 5. Deflect the weapon toward a safe direction.
  • 6. Achieve decisive control over the weapon.
  • 7. Use strikes and body mechanics to remove the weapon from the shooter’s hands.
  • 8. Turn the weapon’s muzzle toward the attacker.
  • 9. Disable the attacker by whatever means necessary to avoid physically wrestling.

Handgun Disarm

To better understand these principles, let’s see how they are applied against a shooter armed with a handgun.

The first principle, staying out of the line of fire, is self-explanatory. If you can conceal yourself behind something and create an opportunity to ambush the shooter, you maximize your safety and the element of surprise. If possible, you want to attack the shooter when he is least capable of directing fire at you. This is where even non-shooters can benefit from knowledge of firearms. While you may not be able to immediately identify a pistol and its magazine capacity and count shots, recognizing slide lock and seizing that moment to make your move significantly improves your chances of success.

Approach from the flank or the rear, moving quickly and decisively to make it difficult for the shooter to react and orient the gun toward you. When you’ve reached him, drive both your hands forward, fingers up, to deflect the gun and the arm holding it. The hand closest to the shooter’s body should index on his wrist. The other hand should index on the middle of the length of the gun. Once you’ve deflected it away from its intended target—and as you continue to move forward—curl the fingers of both hands to firmly grip the shooter’s wrist and the gun’s slide or barrel.

As you achieve your grip, pull both your hands tightly to your chest, bringing the gun close to you but parallel to your chest. Maintaining a firm overhand grip on the slide/barrel, pivot your body 180 degrees to point the muzzle at the shooter’s face. As you pivot, rip the attacker’s hand off the gun with your other hand. This is much more powerful and effective than pulling the gun out of the hand.

Once you’ve secured the gun, strike the shooter hard with the muzzle of the gun and/or gouge his eyes with your other hand to create distance. Switch the gun to your dominant hand and prepare to use it against him. If you prefer, you can perform a tap/rack to ensure that you have a chambered round and the slide is in battery.

This tactic works the same way regardless of which hand holds the gun and whether you approach from the shooter’s left or right side.

Long Gun Disarm

Now that you have a deeper understanding of the principles of third-party disarms, let’s apply them to a long gun. Since rifles and shotguns offer the shooter more points of contact and greater leverage, you’re going to focus on breaking his grip quickly to achieve decisive control over the gun. In this case, let’s assume you’re approaching a right-handed shooter from his left flank.

Again, approach quickly and decisively. Strike the forend or receiver with your left palm to deflect the gun and immediately follow with a powerful downward hammerfist strike to his left forearm—literally chopping his hand off the gun. As your right hand follows through at the bottom of the strike, ride the cyclical motion and deliver a full-power horizontal elbow strike to the shooter’s head. At the end of your elbow strike, your left hand should be gripping the forend of the weapon and your right hand should stop immediately above the small of the stock. Drop your right hand to grip the stock and jerk the gun to your left to make sure the butt clears the shooter’s body. Then, pivot sharply 180 degrees to your right, ripping the gun from the shooter’s grip and pointing the muzzle at him. Drive the muzzle viciously into his face, chest, throat and groin to disable him. Check the status of the weapon, working the action if necessary to ensure you have a chambered round. As you do, maintain your focus on the active shooter and be prepared to fire if he tries to access another weapon or reengage.

Short of never going out in public again, there is no guaranteed way to keep yourself and your family safe from the threat of an active shooter. In addition to being responsibly armed, you should also have the skills and ability to neutralize a gunman with unarmed tactics if necessary. Make these skills part of your regular training, train hard and stay safe.

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