Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Should CCW Holders Intervene Against Active Shooters?

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By Jorge Amselle

The recent mass shooting in Las Vegas by two paranoid extremists tragically left three innocent people dead. Two police officers ambushed and executed while trying to enjoy a meal and one brave civilian who tried to confront the murderers. Oh, the shooters died as well, from cowardly self-inflicted gunshots, but I am not counting their deaths as tragic or innocent.

We increasingly hear from some about how we are becoming a nation of sheep, but there are still more than a few lions left. We hear about them all the time. People who are willing to risk, and sometimes lose, their lives to help save or protect others. There are people who run into burning buildings to try and rescue folks who are trapped. Others will jump into frozen rivers to save crash victims. Some have used their own bodies to shield the innocent from gunfire. Some have used nothing but their words to talk down a violent and armed person. Others have used whatever means at their disposal to stop an attacker and some people who have concealed carry handgun permits have used their guns to stop, or try and stop violence against the innocent.

In most of these cases these folks had a choice. They could have chosen to run away, to hide, to just call for help, to do almost anything other than place themselves in danger. That makes them heroes. The CCW holder who died trying to stop the two lunatic cop killers in Las Vegas is a hero, but I do not recommend following his example. In fact I believe that some in the gun community are a bit too gung-ho when it comes to being the good Samaritan with a gun and glamorizing these sorts of incidents only encourages more such actions.

In all fairness, in the vast majority of cases where CCW holders have used their guns have had good results and were justified, either in defending themselves or others. However, some shootings by CCW holders have somewhat different results with innocents getting shot instead (here and here). I posted this very issue to my FaceBook page and got a lot of responses from civilians and police officers. The bottom line is that the decision to intervene or not is a personal one and based in large part on circumstances and training.

A mass shooting is a scene of chaos with one or more criminals present, scared bystanders crouching and hiding while others run in fear for their lives. Law enforcement response is in almost all cases imminent. In the case of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Arizona there was a CCW holder who rushed to the scene when he heard the shots and very nearly made things worse. Even police officers with far more training and experience than just about any CCW holder in the country make deadly mistakes. Off duty officers getting shot by other officers is not that uncommon.

Each of us should absolutely try and help others against criminals, but that help doesn’t always mean charging in gun drawn. An active shooter is going to come prepared while you only have what you normally carry. You may have an advantage or you may not. You may get lucky or you may make things worse. Granted, my playing Monday morning quarterback is easy but so is being a sideline cheerleader. Heroism in defense of others should be recognized, but not blindly. These incidents should be learning opportunities. Retreat can be just as good a choice as confrontation, and sometimes a better choice. I don’t know what I would do in this type of situation, but the primary purpose of my gun as a civilian is for defending me, not you.

Jorge Amselle is a certified firearms instructor and writer covering all aspects of the industry from military and law enforcement firearms and training to the shooting sports. His youtube channel is

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