Potential "active shooter" toll
Response time - how many can die?
An incident of mass murder at a university, college campus or other
gathering of people is referred to by professional law enforcement
trainers as an "active shooter" incident.
How many lives of disarmed victims might be taken by an active shooter before law enforcement can arrive and stop the shooter?
Legitimate questions have been asked about historic and projected
response times for law enforcement professionals to an active shooter
In early April of 2008, the International Law Enforcement Educators'
and Trainers' Association held its annual conference in Wheeling,
Illinois. Veteran firearms instructor and writer John Farnam
reports from that conference:
"Ed Sanow, active trainer and editor of Law and Order Magazine, told us
all that the four-man, 'diamond' formation that is currently being
promulgated as the local PD's standard response to 'active-shooter'
calls is indeed an effective and powerful, tactical tool. It is
also mostly wishful thinking!
"By the time we get four, plain-vanilla patrolmen, let alone four
SWAT-Team members, to the scene and ready to make entry, nearly a half
hour will have elapsed since the first 911 call. By then, there
is every chance the entire event will be long-since over! Ed
suggests we need to be training with two-man teams, even one-man entry,
if we expect to act in time to save any lives. Even then, he
tells his school administrators that they will be on their own for at
least the first six minutes. There is virtually no possibility
even the first beat-car will get there any sooner than that."
This report confirms that even though the first law enforcement officer
may arrive on the scene of an active shooting incident within (no
earlier than) six minutes, that officer will probably not effect entry
and interdiction, but will rely on protocol to wait until a four-man
"diamond" entry team can be assembled, 30 minutes after the first 911
What is the likely price for this delay, price in number of human
lives? Also, what is the likely price of a policy decision to
disarm the victims of such an attack?
This question can be answered, but requires making some
assumptions. Let us first assume that the active shooter incident
occurs in a "gun-free zone," a place where all potential victims have
been disarmed by applied policy, and nobody on the scene is armed and
able to stop the active shooter.
Then, the simple question becomes, how many people can the active
shooter shoot in six minutes, or in 30 minutes? How many accurate
shots can a reasonabley adept person fire in six minutes, or in 30
The answer to this question is subject to testing, and this test has been accomplished. Here is the report of this test.
At a designated shooting range, six targets were set up seven yards from the shooting position. The targets used were the standard target
of the United States Practical Shooting Association, a brown, cardboard
target of humanoid shape, and with faint scoring lines present that are
not visible to the shooter. The targets were placed a
target-width apart to separate them somewhat, but to also simulate a
relatively target-rich environment likely to be found in a school
classroom or lecture hall.
The shooter was started facing the targets, with handgun loaded and
holstered. A "shot timer" was used for timing the test. A
shot timer is an electronic device used for competitive shooting that
emits a loud tone to start the shooter. When the tone sounds, the
timer also starts a very accurate quartz clock running. The timer
hears each shot and records the elapsed time from the start signal to
each shot, to the nearest 1/100th of a second. The timer may also
be programmed to give a "par time" signal. This par time signal
is a second loud tone that tells the shooter that available time has
elapsed and the shooter must stop shooting. For this test, the
par time was set at 15 seconds.
The participating shooters were instructed that they must change
targets for each shot - that they could not fire two simultaneous shots
at any one target. This was to simulate a new target for each
So, how many accurate shots were participating shooters able to fire in 15 seconds?
Six different shooters participated in the test. The fewest shots
recorded in 15 seconds was 17. The most shots fired in 15 seconds
was 34. The mean was about 25 (VIDEO CLIPS).
This rate of fire is easily sustainable for one minute, which yields a
range of 68 to 136 accurate shots that can be fired in a 60-second
Most of the shots fired during this test scored in the "A zone" of the
targets used, shots that would be fatal to a person. Shots not in
the A-zone were mostly in the C zone, hits that would likely be fatal
to a person not immediately given quality, professional medical
care. (Note: This writer was formerly an advanced life
support paramedic and has treated many gunshot victims.)
Since most of the shooters participating in this test were experienced
shooters, suppose an active shooter could only fire half as many
accurate rounds as the fewest fired in this test, or 34 per
minute. Since the first law enforcement officer able to interdict
the active shooter cannot be expected to arrive until six minutes after
the first 911 call (which may occur some time after the active shooter
begins shooting), our less adept active shooter could still fire over
200 shots before the first officer arrives. This officer may or
may not enter and stop the shooter. The active shooter could
conceivably fire as many as 1,000 shots before the "diamond" formation
can be assembled to stop the shooter, 30 minutes after the first 911
The real limit to the cost in human lives in an active shooter incident
becomes the density and availability of targets, as long as the victims
cannot fight back and as long as the strategy depended upon to stop the
shooter is the arrival of law enforcement. With a large group of
victims, such as in a large lecture hall with the exits chained shut,
as was done at Virginia Tech, an active shooter might have sufficient
targets to kill continuously for the first six minutes, or
longer. In that case, the toll would be horrendous.
The net price of an applied policy to assure that all victims are
disarmed and unable to resist an active shooter may be scores of
Analysis - The Montana University System and Firearms