On Her Own

How to stay safe from mall shootings

The media loves to turn shots fired into an active shooter situation, with all of the implications of that phrase evoking a crazed madman wandering about and firing guns randomly into a crowd. It’s more dramatic that way, and scarier for you as the reader. It makes you wonder if you or a loved one could be an unlucky victim at any moment.

But the reality is that often, the violence is relatively contained and bystander injuries are incidental. If you read a little deeper and check out the follow up stories, you’ll see that they often follow a personal disagreement of some type, or perhaps a fight between groups who know each other (in other words, gangs or not-officially-gang groups of friends). Words are exchanged; threats are made; and a gun or three comes out, with the consequences you might expect from angry people who are perhaps mostly interested in posturing and demonstrating their dominance. If this is the type of situation you see spinning up, know that it’s very unlikely that you can or should deescalate the tension or that you will need your own gun to protect yourself or start shooting back to protect others. The impending fight is not about you, and you aren’t a target of any violence that may occur – as long as you keep yourself out of it. They’re more in the nature of a private disagreement that has gained an audience. That doesn’t make those shootings any less bad, but it does mean you can fear random violence a little less and make some specific preparations that can help you not be hurt by the actual combatants.

For one, you can spot the signs of a fight brewing and therefore, the slightly higher odds of misdirected fire, by paying attention to the world around you. Many of these incidents don’t start with shooting right away, but you might miss the signs if you’re too involved in your own affairs. One of the obvious warnings is hearing angry voices. We all know what it sounds like when people argue, and we shouldn’t dismiss it when we are out in public even though very often, those spats don’t end in gunfights. They could just be having a loud conversation that we are misinterpreting, but they could also be gearing up for more. At the very least, look towards the loud voices and see if there are two or more people facing off and gesturing or acting aggressively. See if you spot people making fists, squaring up or blading off against another person, getting up into another person’s face, even shoving someone around. As soon as you do, start leaving the immediate area. Hanging around to see what’s going to happen next or to take video for social media might leave you in the crossfire just as badly as if the first thing you notice is the sound of gunfire.

Because you’re going to leave as soon as you can, before or after the shooting starts, you need to think about the possibility of panicking and stampeding crowds. It’s not uncommon to hear of injuries that have nothing to do with getting shot in a claimed active shooter scenario. Folks fall or twist a knee or ankle. They get stepped on or trampled or crushed. They have heart attacks. The people responsible for the fight and the gunfire don’t have anything directly to do with it. It’s all about those folks trying to escape from the scary noises. The crowd becomes a mindless horde seeking an exit, and you can become caught up in it or lose your friends and family members inside it. Leaving before the frenzied run starts helps but if you can’t, do your best to go diagonally towards the edges of the crowd as you are pushed along with it. As best you can, keep your arms up in front of you, elbows bent and palms toward your face so that your forearms become something of a shield for your chest. If you’re with others, though, you might want to prioritize hanging on to each others’ hands instead to try to avoid being separated or having someone fall and not be able to get back up. Either way, set up somewhere you can meet each other after you have escaped from the chaos, so you can be less worried if you can’t keep track of them while getting out. Focus on staying calm by knowing and executing your strategies to stay safe.

Then to the extent that you or anyone else is injured either from the gunfire or the stampede, you don’t have to be helpless. You can learn how to provide immediate first aid for gunshot wounds, bumps, cuts, scrapes, sprains, panic attacks, cardiac events, or whatever else might occur. You can carry medical supplies with you, especially for things that might not be able to wait for emergency care to arrive. You don’t have to be the target of violence to be hurt by it and instead of denying it might happen or wringing your hands if it does, you have the power to ensure that the results of any injuries are as minor as possible. Getting shot isn’t necessarily a death sentence just as having a heart attack or a broken leg isn’t anymore, but you do need to know how to spot them and what to do about them. Medics won’t come into a scene until the police have determined that no further violence will occur, and that can take precious time that isn’t available when someone is bleeding out. Even if an injured person isn’t in danger of death right away, helping them be comfortable as you wait for help is no small thing. They will be less panicked and stressed, and so will you.

It’s easy to get caught up in the media frenzy about active shooters everywhere, but many of those incidents involve people fighting with each other and bringing guns into the equation. Even if they don’t, the dangers aren’t quite what you might think, and they certainly are more manageable than some random person randomly deciding to randomly shoot into a crowd. Be realistic about what the risks really are, and you can better prepare for them and take real steps towards your actual safety. Or be honest with yourself that shopping online is more about avoiding interacting with people than about avoiding potential active shooters, and that’s okay too.

Hi, I'm Annette.

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