WDBJ Shooting in VA – Some Further Thoughts on Situational Awareness…

Earlier this week, yet another deranged gunman opened fire in a public venue, taking the lives of two former coworkers, apparently in revenge for perceived slights against him, his race, and his sexual orientation. I do not care to address the racial, social, or media driven undertones here, but I am compelled to examine the situation from a tactical and self-defense standpoint, as these incidents will inevitably continue to occur.

First and foremost, I in no way intend to diminish or tarnish the memories of the slain journalists, I am merely attempting to examine the situation from a learning perspective. Indeed, here at the blog, we would like to express our sincere condolences to the victims’ families and loved ones.

This situation was unique in a few regards. First is the fact that it occurred on live television. This alone has elevated the shooting to a status beyond mere workplace violence. Second is the fact that the shooter also filmed his attack himself, and we have access to that footage. If you haven’t seen it, it is for now available here. Viewer discretion is advised as you will be watching murders occur. For the record, I am glad that the video is available, as it now exists as a valuable training resource, but I also think it was in extremely poor taste for the NY Post and NY Daily News to run screen shots of the murders as their covers the day after. That is but one example of media sensationalism that has far reaching implications.

Much has already been made of the situational awareness aspects of this case, and I have some thoughts to offer as well. I have seen this attack described elsewhere as an “ambush.” This is incorrect. An ambush is a surprise attack conducted from a hidden position. This attacker was not hidden… Unnoticed, but not hidden. In the POV video linked to above, the shooter walks up from behind the victims, then moves to the side, points a Glock pistol at the female reporter while muttering a slur apparently directed at her, lowers the Glock, then raises it again and fires multiple times. In my opinion, it appears as if the shooter was waiting for the cameraman to swing the camera back towards the reporter so that the shooting would be on TV. Whatever his reason, approximately 22 seconds lapse between the first apparent presentation of the pistol and the first shot fired. In a fight for your life, that is an eternity… I can understand the cameraman being unaware, as his field of view and awareness was compromised by the camera he was looking through, and because the shooter was in fact behind him. What is heart wrenching about this footage is that neither the reporter nor the interviewee noticed that the shooter had approached them in a virtually deserted setting early in the morning and that he constituted an imminent deadly threat. Obviously both were focused on conducting the interview, but presumably the attacker would have been visible in their peripheral vision at some point during his approach, warranting at least a glance. In my mind, the 22 second interval I mentioned above was their best opportunity to fight back.

Which brings me to my second point… If you can legally carry a gun, then do so! The pistol is the preeminent self-defense tool available to an individual. Learn to shoot and carry a handgun and be confident and practiced with it. In this particular incident, movement appeared constrained by the deck rails, but the reporter at least had the option of lateral movement off the line of attack. Unarmed, however, that lateral movement might not do much good. Instead, I think the best option in this particular instance would have been to throw the microphone at the shooter’s face and immediately close the distance with the goal of violently disarming the shooter or otherwise incapacitating him and blocking his attempts to bring the gun into play. Such an action would have immediately alerted the cameraman to the attack and potentially allowed him to join in the fight to subdue the shooter. As my blogging partner pointed out to me, a deliberate assassination is incredibly difficult to defend against. History bears out that premise… Having said that, these victims had the opportunity to defend themselves. Regrettably, they just never saw it.

Robert has previously written about situational awareness. You can find that post here. Regarding situational awareness, this incident is at best an example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or at worst an example of classic task fixation to  the exclusion of all else.

Where I work, I have the luxury of having at least my partner and often local law enforcement on scene to watch my back while I focus on patient care. Perhaps this event, coupled with the recent attack on a San Francisco news crew earlier this year, should serve to encourage mobile news reporting teams to have at least one extra person with no specific task other than maintaining situational awareness while they perform their jobs in the field…

There are a few other takeaways from this situation. Note that the reporter runs away after being shot… As has been pointed out previously on this blog, gunshot wounds are often not immediately fatal or incapacitating. Always fight back and be prepared for a sustained fight! Be prepared to render medical first aid, whether improvised or otherwise.

Also, untrained individuals can still be dangerous… I make the assumption that the attacker was untrained based on his manipulation of the pistol and documents that indicate that he purchased his pistol as recently as two days after the horrific Charleston, SC church shooting. You can read my thoughts on that shooting here. Unfortunately, the analysis holds similar parallels.

One further emphatic point on situational awareness is in order. I’ve said this before, and I will say it again. Violence is often random from our perspective. If you knew you were going to need your gun somewhere, you probably wouldn’t go there! You may not be looking for a fight, but the fight may indeed be looking for you!

Finally, as is typical for these cowards, the shooter chose to end his own life when he came into contact with law enforcement. Unfortunately, the damage was already done.

As these events continue to occur, rather than focus on gun control measures that will invariably only disarm and punish the law abiding citizen, I instead think it should be our collective mandate to create a culture that will fight back against evil that knows no boundaries.

Thank you for reading the blog, and as always, we welcome your comments.

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