The fact that the United States now leads the world in mass shootings is a dark side of American “exceptionalism,” that is troubling on many fronts. When you remember we are also the global leader in per-capita gun ownership (88.8 per 100 people), then Run, Hide, Fight – the Department of Homeland Security’s recommended set of steps if confronted with an active shooter - takes on very significant meaning. These life-saving actions reflect the stark reality of the America we live in today.
For several years now, those of us at Hillard Heintze have been strong and vocal ambassadors of Run, Hide or Fight. Which choice you make will depend on your mental and physical preparedness, but ultimately, your survival instincts will overwhelm your clarity of thought and determine whether you live or die.
For anyone who has to confront an active shooter face-to-face, the decision you make unfolds in a split second, a brief moment in time. The experience is surreal. I faced such a situation on February 19, 1983 while shopping in a mall in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My professional training helped guide my survival instincts. In this case, I chose to fight – and protect what mattered – the lives of children and families, as they fled.
Virtually No time to Decide
Every act of targeted violence that involves an active shooter has many things in common. Each also has its own individual and unique story, especially for the victims.
In the last week alone, we’ve seen life and death played out before us with outcomes both horrific and positive. The horror occurred last week in a small southern Virginia town when a former co-worker murdered two young journalists. Over the last several years, the shooter had provided clear signs that he was on a path towards violence. And when he erupted, the reporter and her cameraman suffered fatal injuries as they attempted to run. This tragedy ended like most active shooter incidents: the gunman took his own life as police closed in.
“He seemed like he was ready to fight to the end. So were we.”
The other event played out on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris a few days ago. Three young Americans heard the sounds of gunfire directly behind them. Their first instincts were to duck for cover, but a split second later one of them, with authority, said, “Let’s go!” In seconds, National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos, Airman Spencer Stone and their childhood friend Anthony Sadler were charging up the aisle of the train to engage in a hand-to-hand, life-or-death fight. We all know the ending to this event. They were awarded France’s Legion d’Honneur for their courageous action by French President Francois Hollande. Americans around the world were proud.
Enough is Enough
In order to counter the active shooter phenomenon in our workplaces, churches, schools, movie theaters and homes, much has to change in our society. Let’s take inspiration from our three compatriots in France and never forgot the sacrifice made by these two young journalists. All of us bear responsibility at some level to prevent acts of target violence, because doing so will require political will and social changes. Enough is enough – let’s go!