Two weeks ago, I attended a large weekend music festival in Tampa, Florida. Almost all of these festivals have some type of security screening with either pat down searches or metal detectors.
I’ve written in the past about how to smuggle defensive weapons past security checkpoints in places like these, where “no guns” signs do not have the force of law. I’m now reconsidering that advice.
As I was unsure exactly what security measures were in place, I played it safe the first day. I carried a ceramic knife and carefully disguised container of pepper spray to test the security guards’ responses to large metal belt buckles and metal zippers on the pockets of my shorts.
I figured out how they operated and planned to smuggle my gun in on the second day. Again, this isn’t illegal under Florida law. If I got caught, the worst thing that would happen is that I would be denied entrance into the facility. Don’t smuggle weapons into any location where the potential consequence could be a criminal arrest.
As I enjoyed the music on the first day, I checked out the police presence. I was actually impressed. Lots of uniformed cops from both Tampa PD and other local agencies patrolling in pairs. At the entrances of the venue and in other locations, I additionally observed small groups of SWAT cops kitted up with plate armor, AR-15 rifles, and HK subguns. It looked like they had plenty of officers available to respond to trouble and a decent operations plan. That’s somewhat uncommon.
As I was standing in a line for one of the food trucks, I started chatting with one of the uniformed officers (not from Tampa PD). I told him that I was a retired cop and complimented the number of officers they had working the event. I noted the SWAT cops with rifles and made a comment along the lines of “It looks like you guys are well prepared for an active killer attack or any other problems.”
His response shocked me. He said:
“Yeah. An active killer response is pretty easy in an place like this. Everyone goes through the metal detectors. No one has guns. If someone gets past security and starts shooting, it’s easy to find the bad guy. He’s the only one not wearing a uniform with a gun in his hand.”
That reaction actually left me speechless. The cop had never considered that a “good guy” might have smuggled a gun past their minimal security screenings. He didn’t think about the fact that not everyone with a gun in his/her hand is a criminal. He wasn’t thinking about off duty or plain clothes cops. He wasn’t thinking about people like me. In his mind, anyone with a gun who wasn’t wearing a police uniform in that concert venue was an automatic “shoot” target.
I’ve written quite a bit about how folks should respond to active killer events in public places. I’ve cautioned my readers about the dangers of getting shot by responding cops if one chooses to intervene in such an attack. I generally would not “go hunting” if shots break out in a crowded concert venue. My primary goal is to escape. I’m only going to use my gun if the killer is directly targeting me (or a companion) or was impeding our escape.
Even though my primary plan is to get myself and companions to safety, there are certainly some scenarios where I would draw my gun and shoot. I never contemplated the fact that some cops in these venues would automatically assume anyone holding a gun was a lethal threat.
The cop I spoke with was short sighted, but I can understand his thought process. It forced me to contemplate how many other officers shared his opinion.
The city where I spent my career as a police officer didn’t ever have events that utilized metal detectors. I certainly worked lots of events with a large number of attendees, but none of them had security screenings. I always knew that there could be lots of legally armed citizens present and I had to exercise good target discrimination should shooting break out. Armed people in the events I worked would not be automatic “shoot” targets. It made me wonder if I would have thought about things differently if I spent my career working at “secured” events.
The armed citizen is at a serious risk of being shot by responding cops if he or she chooses to intervene in an active killer attack. I hadn’t previously considered how much more at risk that armed citizen might be if the same attack happened inside a “secure” perimeter. I will definitely be thinking more about this issue in the future. You should too.