I’ve written about the phenomenon of active killer attacks for more than two decades. One of the most important themes I’ve identified is the fact that active killers want a large body count and are willing to constantly alter or change their tactics in order to achieve that goal.
Yesterday’s mass shooting on a New York City subway is a prime example of this tactical adaptation. The killer employed a number of unique tactics we haven’t seen before in order to buy him time to shoot as many victims as possible. If you have not yet read a detailed description of the attack, I think the articles below will give you the most accurate summary of what happened.
A quiet morning commute on a Brooklyn subway quickly became a ‘war zone’ leaving more than 20 people injured
I’m not going to waste time here describing the attack in detail. The articles above do a wonderful job describing what happened. Instead, I’m going to focus on discussing the lessons learned that will help you survive a similar attack.
Let’s get started…
“I’ll just run away“- I hear lots of my students parroting this mantra as a plan to escape an active killer attack. In general, if you can get away from the scene, you’ll be better off. But running away doesn’t work in every scenario. Feel free to rely on running as your primary defensive strategy, but please have a backup plan in the event that you are unable to escape.
The active killer wants as many victims as possible. Historically he has structured his plan of attack to create the greatest body count. Yesterday’s attack is a prime example of such planning. How are you going to run away when trapped in a moving subway car? You should also have an active killer response plan in the event you cannot escape.
The shooter chose a location to minimize the chance of resistance or police intervention- Active killers generally don’t want to get hurt and they don’t want to get caught. Why do you think so many active killers choose schools, businesses, and shopping malls as attack sites? All those locations provide an ample amount of victims, minimal police presence, and a reduced chance of encountering an armed citizen.
With more and more states allowing concealed carry firearms carry, we are seeing attackers migrate towards “gun free zones” where there is a smaller chance that they will be shot by a potential victim. The ultimate “gun free zone” is the NYC subway. Very few people have permits to carry there. The chance of having a large number of resisting victims is minimized.
Choosing a subway car is logically consistent with the killers goal. Lots of captive victims with a very minimal chance that anyone will resist. A NYC subway car is the adult active killer equivalent to shooting up an elementary school. Countless victims unable to defend themselves.
Use of smoke grenades. The suspect initiated this attack by throwing two smoke grenades in the crowded subway car. I may be repeating myself, but we all must consider the killer’s motivations. They want a large body count with a minimal chance of being hurt or captured during the attack. How does the smoke grenade increase his chance of success?
It creates confusion and panic. It obscures both his identity and position. The smoke allows him to fire without being tracked by his muzzle flashes. Furthermore, smoke with the loud sounds of explosions is more associated with a fireworks show than an active killer attack. When people see the smoke and hear the concussion of the gunshots, they assume someone is irresponsibly setting off fireworks in the subway. That “normalcy bias” provides the killer with more time to kill before the police respond.
Multiple weapons– The majority of active killers with large body counts carried more than one weapon to the scene. This guy had a 9mm Glock (also identified as a .380 auto in some articles) and three magazines of ammo. He also had explosives, gasoline, and a hatchet. If you encounter an active killer do not assume he is unarmed if he complies and drops his weapon. Do not approach him. Be prepared for him to acquire an additional weapon and continue the attack.
Integrated explosives– Modern active killer and terrorist attacks regularly involve explosives. When you hear shooting, expect to also deal with bombs. If a bomb blows, expect the killer to follow up with gun shots. As first responders and CCW carriers, we must be prepared to handle both weapon threats. Read The Armed Citizen’s Response to a Terrorist Bombing for more details about how these criminals use bombs to increase their body counts.
Wearing “camouflage” to reduce the chance of being killed by an armed citizen or responding cop. The shooter was wearing a reflective green safety vest during the attack. Some of you have “police” or “security” marked reflective vests in your gear to reduce the chance you are shot by responding officers in an active killer situation. It seems the criminals are now figuring out this trick as well.
Expect to see more active killers and terrorists employing uniforms as a disguise in the future.
Modern day threat cues– The killer was wearing a gas mask. Three years ago, that might have been a threat cue. Now after two years of seeing people in all kinds of masks, a gas mask may be considered unusual, but not an automatic threat. People regularly wear balaclavas, surgical masks, and hoodies. It’s tough to determine whether these are pandemic precautions or tactics to obscure one’s identity. I would advise everyone to pay even closer attention to one’s environment when you are around lots of folks where mask wearing is the norm.
Gun jams- In this event, the killer fired one magazine until it was empty and began firing from a second magazine before the gun jammed. He had a third fully loaded magazine on his person as well. The gun jam effectively stopped his attack. In many active killer attacks, the shooter’s gun jams. This may be the best opportunity to either flee or counterattack.
Be able to recognize weapon malfunctions and exploit them.
Weird stuff– There are lots of strange and unexplained reported variables in this incident. Why did the suspect rent a U-haul van and leave it a five-minute walk from the subway spot without using it to escape? Why did he leave the car keys, a credit card, and the jammed weapon at the scene? That is exceptionally odd behavior. I’m hoping those anomalies can be explained during the investigative process.
I’ll post updates to this article as more information comes out.