Surviving a Mass Killer Rampage: When Seconds Count, Police Are Still Minutes Away
Reviewed by Gila Hayes
In his latest book firearms author Chris Bird asserts that the term gun free zone is a lie, since “they are only free of law-abiding citizens with guns.” Massad Ayoob, writing the foreword, adds that so-called gun free zones are actually hunting preserves for killers where most of the victims can’t fight back. With these unvarnished truths, Bird’s new book Surviving a Mass Killer Rampage tackles a concern that even armed citizens fear may cost their lives or the lives of loved ones.
While mass killing rampages have occurred in shopping malls, restaurants, theaters, clubs, churches and other public venues, school shootings are among the most disturbing, owing to the loss of such young lives. Arming educators is of special interest to Chris Bird; this is a subject on which he has written in earlier books, and addresses again in this, his most recent work. Surviving a Mass Killer Rampage combines extensively researched post-incident interviews with citizen defenders as well as material from Tactical Defense Institute’s active-killer defense classes, plus other school shooting response programs. He additionally addresses Muslim jihad and mass killings taking place outside of gun free zones. Bird comments that he has little to no interest in the killer’s motivation, and uses instead the journalist’s tried and true method of reporting Who, What, When, Where and How, to teach readers what to watch for and how to react if caught in a mass shooting attack.
Bird debunks the media-fueled myth that having a gun is of little use when a killer attacks a crowd. Effectiveness requires more than just having a gun, however, illustrated by the story of Springfield, OR student Jake Ryker who stopped a school shooter who had killed two and wounded 25. When the killer’s rifle clicked on an empty chamber, the student and his brother recognized their opening, and immobilized him before the killer could access a pistol or knife or reload with the 50-some rounds of ammunition he was carrying.
Bird reaches back in history with a riveting retelling of the takedown of the Texas University tower shooter, in which a private citizen armed with a rifle accompanied police officer Ramiro Martinez onto the tower’s observation deck where a shotgun-armed Austin police officer joined them a short time later. Martinez later said he did not realize that Alan Crum, the man who went up the tower elevator with him, was not a law enforcement officer until he asked to be deputized. “I didn’t have a second thought, because we had already passed all those dead and wounded, and he was with me, and he had a rifle. What more could you ask of a man?” Martinez is quoted. Martinez further credited rifle fire from citizens on the ground with restricting the tower shooter’s movement, preventing him from shooting accurately enough to kill many more than the victims he initially hit.
Some pages later, Bird quotes the late Bill Barchers’ study of active killers in which that researcher asserted that of 49 such incidents, nine were resolved by police while the intended victims confronted the shooter and stopped the killing 14 times, with “minimum loss of life.” This Bird contrasts with the common sentiment that citizens should just call 9-1-1 for help, comply with the criminal and not fight back. How many more innocents would have been killed in 1966 if Texans had waited for police to pin down the killer in the university clock tower?
Rallying police is always too slow, Bird shows through reports about school killings at Columbine, CO and on other campuses. One post-Columbine study concluded that mass shootings are likely to be concluded in several minutes, not allowing time for even a single police officer to respond, let alone assemble an entry team. Additionally, research shows that it is likely that the shooter will attack during daylight hours, probably inside a building, will know the area and target specific people initially before the rampage turns indiscriminate. The murderers generally commit suicide, either killing themselves or forcing responders to kill them, it reports.
That research concluded that only onsite personnel are likely to stop the killing expeditiously, and while the researchers called for armed officers at schools, the more reasonable option of allowing qualified citizens to carry their self-defense guns was entirely ignored. Next, Bird studies police response at VA Tech in April 2007, in which nearly two dozen were killed and many more injured although police responded about eight minutes after the first 9-1-1 call for help.
With the VA Tech killings, Bird also introduces the question of fleeing or fighting a mass killer. Flight is “a respectable and preferable course of action,” Bird opines, but what, he asks, if you are trapped and escape is not an option? He studies charging into gunfire, trying to hold a door closed, barricading or locking doors, playing dead and later chapters discuss advice to hide under desks. Only two years earlier, he reveals, a concealed carry licensee/student was disciplined for having a gun on the VA Tech campus. Contrast this with the armed, life-saving actions of the Pearl, MS high school assistant principal who stopped a student/killer in 1997, as well as the 2002 armed response of Tracy Bridges who with another armed student subdued a man who shot a student, a professor and the school dean at the Appalachian School of Law.
Where realistic preparations flourish, armed teachers, students, parishioners, and other armed citizens can and do stop killers seeking infamy through mass murder. Such was the effect at the New Life Church in CO where Jeanne Assam engaged an active killer, and in another parish in which the pastor had to shoot a janitor bent on revenge after losing his job.
Bird’s analyses are genuine studies, not pro-gun propaganda and when armed defenders run into difficulties, be that through tactical mistakes, inadequate skill or the inevitable confusion at a mass shooting scene, Bird plainly reports what happened. Arguments exist about whether Assam killed the New Life Church shooter or if he committed suicide and Bird draws out lessons about post-incident confusion. Joe Zamudio, running to try to stop the shooter who attacked Gabrielle Giffords, encountered a tremendously confusing scene, with another citizen holding the disarmed attacker’s gun and nearly being shot as a result. Bird writes honestly about all of these factors. Still, he asserts that anti-gun hype that armed citizens will harm more innocents is unfounded. This supposition, he notes, “has been used to disarm ordinary citizens in stores, movie theaters, malls, schools, colleges, and on the street. It hasn’t happened, but what has happened is that active killers choose so-called gun free zones, including churches to commit their atrocities.”
Additional chapters in Surviving a Mass Killer Rampage discuss threats from radical Islam adherents. These vary from most of the other mass killer incidents in that multiple, coordinated attacks are more common, as illustrated by the attacks in Mumbai, London, Madrid, and, of course, the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., and in France. This organized terrorism is formidable, not only in weaponry–ranging from rifles and handguns to explosives–but perpetrated by teams of assailants sent out to commit dramatic atrocities. Bird also details the San Bernardino, Ft. Hood, and Chattanooga attacks, noting that in all three, the terrorists carried huge quantities of ammunition and multiple firearms.
Bird goes on to cite various terror incidents, and in several, citizens stopped the danger without firearms, as illustrated by the response of the four young American men on the Paris-bound train out of Amsterdam when the train was boarded by a heavily-armed terrorist, whom they physically subdued. Nor do attackers always use guns, as Bird illustrates in writing about the beheading a fired food processing plant employee committed in the name of Allah near Oklahoma City in 2014. He was stopped by a manager with a gun.
Bird has dubbed armed citizens “irregular first responders,” in the war against terror and mass killers. He closes his chapter on terrorism on American soil with a call to be trained in firearms use and where lawful, carry your gun concealed without fail. The armed citizen is the first line of defense, he stresses. Surviving a Mass Killer Rampage is an excellent counterpoint to the popular fatalism that only the authorities should use deadly force to counter active killers. In addition to being very informative, Surviving a Mass Killer Rampage, like all of Bird’s books is a compendium of pertinent stories and it makes enjoyable and educational reading.
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