Surviving a Movie Theater Shooting

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Articles

  • SumoMe

Written by: Greg Ellifritz

FireShot Screen Capture #011 - 'Lafayette theater shooter bought gun legally - CNN_com' - www_cnn_com_2015_07_25_us_louisiana-theater-shooting


Last Thursday evening a man began firing rounds in a Louisiana movie theater.  He fired 20 rounds from a .40 Hi-Point pistol, hitting 11 people before killing himself when police arrived.  Have you ever thought about what you might do if you were engaged by an active killer while watching a film at a movie theater?  Here are some things you should be considering:



1) Choose your seats wisely.  I always sit on the aisle, ideally in one of the “separator rows” that have more legroom in front.  I want to be able to instantly move if I have to react.  I don’t want to be trapped in a middle seat and be forced to scramble over dozens of obese, popcorn eating moviegoers to engage a shooter or escape.  More specifically, I sit with my left arm on the aisle and my right side toward my companion.  I carry my gun on my right side.  If I have to engage in a hand to hand struggle with the shooter in the aisle, it will be slightly harder for him to access my right hand to foul my draw.  Additionally, if I am disabled or occupied fighting the shooter, it gives my (potentially) unarmed companion better access to my weapon.


There are those who will advocate taking a middle seat because the shooter is likely to target people along the aisles first.  That may be a good point, but I prefer better mobility to the ballistic protection offered by others’ bodies.  Remember, the emergency you face may not be a shooter, but something else (bomb, fire, gang fight, etc).  I think the aisle offers a better overall position.


The shooter in this case did not initially fire from the aisle.  He stood up and shot from his own seat, initially targeting the two women sitting immediately in front of him.  In a situation like this, an aisle seat would certainly be a better option than sitting in the middle.  An aisle seat in the far rear of the theater might be the absolute best place to be.


2) Pick at least two exits.  Look around before you sit down and notice all the potential exit points.  Your primary strategy during any type of emergency is to escape.  That has historically served as the most successful option for the largest number of people in past active shooting incidents.  Find the exits and have a plan to get to them (including getting your companions or loved ones out as well).


3) Carry the right equipment.  One thing I never leave home without is a powerful flashlight (I generally carry two).  That would have been tremendously useful in a dark theater that was filling with the smoke of 20 gunshots.  Whether it’s used to temporarily blind the shooter, find an escape route, or to line up your sights, a flashlight would be incredibly useful.


If you can lawfully carry a gun, think about your weapon choice.  What gun would you choose if you knew you might have to fight a shooter  in a dark, smoke filled theater with dozens of panicked people running around?  For me, a .38 snub or .380 auto would be at the bottom of the list.  Carry enough gun to do the job.  Movie theaters are large.  You’ll want a gun with which you can easily hit a target 25 or more meters away.  Most pocket pistols aren’t very useful for making precision shots at long range in the dark.


Carry what you like, but when I went to the movies last Saturday night, I carried a Glock 19 with a spare mag and a bright flashlight.


The other important thing to carry in crowded public places is medical gear.  If you were seriously injured and unable to evacuate, could you treat yourself and prevent your own death for nearly 30 minutes until the paramedics arrived?  What type of gear should you carry with you to self-treat a gunshot wound?  While I have a complete trauma bag in my car, sometimes a full kit is difficult to carry on your person.  At bare minimum, I carry a military triangular bandage.  While it isn’t the best piece of gear, it can be used adequately to improvise a pressure dressing, pack a wound, or create a tourniquet.  If I am wearing a jacket or a pair of pants with a large pocket, I will generally supplement the triangular bandage with a mini pressure dressing, some petrolatum gauze (for a sucking chest wound), and a flat pack of duct tape.  I can treat almost any wound adequately with those items and they don’t take up too much space.


Items like these…pressure dressing (top), petrolatum gauze dressing (center), triangular bandage (bottom) and flat pack of duct tape (right) are easy to carry and may save your life.



4) Think about what else you will need to escape.  Good footwear comes to mind immediately.  I don’t go out in public anywhere I may have to run while wearing flip-flops.  Wear some real shoes!


Also think about where you park your car. I prefer to park a little bit farther away from the theater (nose out) so that I can make an escape if necessary without being blocked in by responding emergency vehicles and crime scene tape.


5) Training is important.  Think about this scenario again.  It’s dark and smoky.  You have dozens of innocent people running around.  A man is firing at you with a large caliber pistol.   Could you actually hit the target with your chosen CCW gun?  That’s a tough shot to make.  Don’t delude yourself thinking that your military experience from 30 years ago or the 8-hour CCW class you took gives you the skills to do it.  It’s never been easier to get quality professional firearms training.  If you are serious about protecting yourself and your loved ones, it would be in your best interest to find a good instructor or shooting school and take some classes.


Think about these tips before you spend any time in a movie theater.




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12 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

    • WM says:

      That is an excellent package for an EDC med kit. Tourniquets save lives and I always carry one. Trying to make a tourniquet from a belt or even a triangular bandage is a frustrating affair, especially if you are expected to hastily evacuate a bleeding patient. Improv is great but nothing beats a properly applied CAT. No one should ever carry an item like a tourniquet (improvised or otherwise) without proper training. There are some great training outfits that will train and certify you to use a CAT as well as anything else you would find in an IFAK.

  1. Ken says:

    In this scenario, if I was defending myself from an active shooter and its a firefight within a crowded theater, how can I let law enforcement know that I’m not the active shooter? What would you do to know the difference between a CCW holder vs an active shooter?

  2. ejdalise says:

    Honest, if I have to carry all that, I just won’t go to the movies.

    I do carefully pick where to sit, usually, the back row. The advantage is a commanding view of the theater and a wall at my back, and the disadvantage is in a theater seating place you have to go down to the exit below.

    The other strategy is going at off times (something I can do since I am retired). Usually, there are few people in the theater, and any movement is immediately obvious, even if watching the movie.

    I carry a XDs, but no spare magazine. One of these days I’ll have to start carrying one.

    The thing is, “when” you go to a movie is as important as where you sit. I don’t go often, I don’t go at prime times, I don’t go the first few weeks of a movie’s release, and I find I can be in a theater that is much less likely to be the target of a shooter.

  3. Marcus Wynne says:

    Hey Greg — very smart and cogent advice, as you always provide. I heartily concur with your choices, and add these few random thoughts:

    1) A movie theater these days is one venue where I might be comforted by slipping an extra magazine into a pocket (in addition to a belt mounted one and the fully charged weapon). Why? It may take more than a few shots if you’re required to engage an armored opponent in the dark and smoke and with milling people; also, who says there will continue to be only one shooter in these scenarios? Two standard capacity magazines may seem a lot to some folks, but to each their own — I might prefer to err on the side of heavy rather than light.

    2) A small utility light and a larger brighter tactical flashlight — very smart. I make sure both of mine have a strobe and/or flashing signal capability. It’s a good way to identify yourself in a crunch, in the dark, if you have comms with responding units (see Paul Howe’s DVD on Civilian Response to Active Shooters, where he goes into the concept of strobes/flashlights as ID tools in the aftermath of a shooting incident)

    3) Your med stuff is spot on. I think it was Bill Forgey who when asked what sort of emergency medical gear he carried answered: Two bandanas, two safety pins, and a flat pack of duct tape. Along with a sharp pocket knife and flashlight. Skills trump gear, and having a small kit that you will actually carry on you trumps a full blown kit in the car. One of my friends was present at a cafe bombing in Nairobi back in the day — his pocket kit and his ability to improvise from table clothes, rope, and tables (as well as his armed hijacking of a vehicle to levy into service as an ambulance, LOL) saved many lives that day.

    4) You’re a really progressive trainer, Greg. Great balance of advanced training, practical field experience and common sense. Your student are well served. We’ll have to get you out to Minneapolis some time.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    cheers, m

  4. Good post, Greg. I think it is worth mentioning that MANY instructors are now teaching low light shooting, and this is critical experience. There will be plenty of smoke generated by a firing line, even on an outdoor range. It’s important for people to learn how their lights will be effected by gunsmoke.

    Also, some instructors are incorporating movie theater scenarios in their force on force training. This helps people gain some limited, but hands on experience with dealing with crowds, target identification in low light, etc.

    Thanks again for writing this article.

  5. TatendaZim says:

    Good information. Just an FYI, it’s usually cheaper to make your own flat fold duct tape and you make any size and length that fits your needs.

  6. Ajax says:

    Great article, thank you sir. I would, however, respectfully suggest that you increase your med kit. The cravat is an awesome tool, but I would probably bump it up to a CAT tourniquet (when folded right, it basically disappears in your pocket) and possibly some Z-Fold quick clot. But otherwise, keep it up!

  7. Digital says:

    very top row is the safest. If you lay on the floor there is no way for a shooter to hit you since its too steep and when reloading you can drop down a side walkway and again be past danger

    you should slap the projector window so the booth guy can flip the lights and call 911…

    I cleaned them for years and I know where they put secret doors too how the booth works.

    ushers should check pre start but you can check the exit doors at the bottom but he fooled the user by shimming the bottom so if the handle pushes in and door doesn’t open then get an usser to check to see if the latch is moving. I did this every night by pushing on the door to see it someone taped the lock and pushed the handle to see if it was shimmed.

    There should be 1 exit door per exit ramp and its 300 to 500 seats a ramp. So don’t think sitting on the side will do anything since your in the middle of the gas. He took out 5 rows before the wheel chair flat area before people got up.

    up top you can wait and then get up and drop right from the edge that looks down at the exit ramp. I have jumped down for fun and its not bad.

    trying to engage the shooter is stupid and if they can prove any of your bullets hurt the 800 people running by then you just committed a crime.

  8. BobC says:

    I would think that laser sights would be one of the best ways to aim in a smoky, dark theatre. They don’t advertise your position to the shooter any more than a flashlight would, and might even work better (for you) in smoke than clear air, as a laser beam in smoke looks kind of like a Star Wars “Light-Sabre” and is extremely easy to point. (Unfortunately, it also makes it easier for the shooter to spot your position, at the point where the line of light ends.) Another advantage of the laser sight is that you can be just as accurate with a snubby as a target pistol.

    Another worry I would have is accidentally shooting someone who ran in front of me just as I lined up a shot at the shooter. I’ve thought about this, but haven’t come to any firm conclusions about how to best avoid it and still have a good chance of stopping the shooter. Any ideas?

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