When it’s not a gun problem… Commentary on the Manchester Suicide Bombing

By now, readers will have been inundated with news stories about the Manchester, England suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert. While ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, it was no great mental leap to see the bombing as yet another terrorist attack. I’m not going to give quarter to the motivation of the bomber, ultimately, that is irrelevant to this discussion. Instead, let’s look at this most recent attack from a perspective of how to deal with similar future scenarios.

This is a problem for people like us, because it’s NOT a problem we can necessarily fix with a concealed firearm. So what can we do?

First I’m going to suggest that you visit the Active Response Training blog written by Greg Ellifritz. Having recently attended his “Terrorist Bombers” lecture at the last Rangemaster Tactical Conference, I am confident naming him as an expert in these matters. He has written extensively on the subject, and this article is but one example of the phenomenal reference that his blog provides. The short version takeaway is that you probably won’t recognize a suicide bomber, and even if you did, very few people have the skill set to deliver a head shot on demand at the ranges and in the time frames involved. Think you can? Next time you walk into a crowded venue, count out 10 seconds (and that’s being generous). Locate the probable bomber, his handlers, and imagine drawing and firing a headshot, assuming you’re in a venue where you can even carry a gun… yeah, that’s what I thought. If you’re close enough to do anything, you’re close enough to die in the bomb blast. There is nothing good about these situations. As I mentioned in my initial review of Ellifritz’s presentation, the Kobayashi Maru simulator from Star Trek comes to mind.

So, if we consider that we probably can’t be armed at all venues that might be subject to attack, and even if we were, probably couldn’t recognize a suicide bomber in time to ballistically alter their intended course of action, what can one do to prepare?

Many will no doubt parrot the maxim of, “Don’t go to stupid places with stupid people at stupid times.” I’m not sure a concert necessarily qualifies. Do you enjoy going to concerts? I’ve been to my fair share of shows, and I’ll probably go to some others in the future. I’m sure, someday, my children will want to go to a few concerts. The truth is, unless you’re prepared to completely eschew public venues, avoidance is a tactic with only limited viability.

Looking at avoidance from a slightly different angle, note that this suicide bombing took place in a transitional area. Read Robert’s article on dealing with those areas. Think about where the transitional areas are in public venues and try to spend as little time as possible in them. Transit through them, don’t loiter.

Obviously, situational awareness and escape and evasion should always be at the top of the toolbox, but there are other more prescient considerations as well. How many of those concert goers had a flashlight on their person, or a tourniquet or med kit? How many had looked for alternate exits or set up prearranged rally points with their friends and family in case of an emergency? How many had considered what improvised weapons might be carried innocuously?

Conversely, how many had indulged in intoxicants or outright illegal substances and therefore kneecapped their accurate perception of their surroundings? How many have been blissfully traipsing through life with either no concept that true evil exists in the world or looking at the world with a normalcy bias that clouded their perception of reality? No doubt, many young liberal minded people just got a very ugly wake up call that they don’t yet fully understand.

I’m going to keep this commentary short. Live your life. Go places. See things. But do so armed with the knowledge and appropriate tools needed to deal with the reality that we are living in an era of 4th generation warfare where the security afforded by our borders has been made largely irrelevant through decades of negligent idealism.

4 thoughts on “When it’s not a gun problem… Commentary on the Manchester Suicide Bombing

  1. ANOTHER Point of View

    First, I think if you can’t do head shots at a range of at least 25 yards then you need to practice. I did my last qualification with all head shots using only iron sights. With an RMR equipped pistol 50 yards is easy and 100 yards is “do-able” with practice (OK a lot of practice-but still do-able). Without an optic 50 yards takes practice and some sort of a rest makes it easier. Consider going prone or using the corner of a wall. OK, prone is probably not feasible, but a wall or counter or trash can or hood of your car or or or will do fine for support.

    I started doing head shots 20+ years ago when my PD instructor gave me a score of only 88 on a target that had a hole the size of a fist dead center. She told me “If you can shoot that good, then shoot ’em in the head because Bad Guys wear vests too.” Back then she was talking about body armor, that was right after the famous LA shootout. Today we have bad guys wearing both body armor and bomb vests. Hell you can buy steel plates for $100 on eBay that your rifle wont penetrate. So head shots are likely to be the only thing that gets the job done, and before somebody starts up with some law suit BS, its all lethal force, whether you aim for his arm, or his heart, or his head… AND anything short of an active shooter/terrorist event will likely get you sued anyway–BUT–since we’re talking about a guy with a bomb, do you really think somebody is gonna sue you for turning his brains into pink mist???

    If you think you wont spot a bomber, then why bother? Back in the 80’s, the Survivalist movement keyed in on surviving a Nuclear War, in my mind that was fine, because if you were prepared for a nuke, then you were prepared for a hurricane or a tornado, or something else more likely. So you don’t have to “spot” a bomber; but if you’re alert you just might, or maybe it’s an active shooter getting ready to attack. Look for his clothes, do they look too bulky? Is his back pack extra heavy? Is his hand closed into a fist holding something? Do you see wires? Is he in a daze, possibly mumbling? Is he saying “aloha snackbar?” Did you see him try to avoid security? Is he nervous or sweaty? Oh, and does he look middle eastern (sorry folks; but I haven’t seen too many reports of blond Mormons blowing them selves up to promote the Book of Mormon)? Taken individually these can be meaningless, but adding each of these in layers begins to increase the threat assessment. Do you shoot? What WOULD make you decide to shoot? This isn’t 1985, it’s a post 9-11 world, heck it’s post Paris, and Belgium, and Turkey, and San Bernardino, and Orlando, AND Arianna Grande… If you’re right you’ll be a hero, if you’re wrong you’ll be arrested–so what else is new.

    So what if you can’t shoot? Then just LEAVE. There’s a line from the movie RONIN, “If there’s doubt, then there is no doubt”. Yep, you might miss the concert of the year and you might feel silly for doing it; but given the choice of missing the concert or burying your daughter, then the decision is easy. Yeah you have to be attuned to your “gut” and maybe you’ll be wrong, or maybe you’ll be the guy who was late and watched from the pier as the Titanic sailed away. If you decide to leave, then any structures you can put between you and the bomber that will deflect the blast, the more the better, turn corners and go down stairs. Think of a bomb blast like an ocean wave. When it comes, how can you get out of the way? What will stop it and what will be pushed into you?

    Right after the Baltimore riots, my then fiancé and I had tickets to an Oriole game. We had paid big bucks for them in a charity auction, and she didn’t want to just miss the game. I agreed, but insisted that we would leave on the first HINT of trouble. Obviously nothing happened, but I spent more time watching people than the game. I drove a vehicle that could jump curbs and push tiny hybrids out of the way and I carried lots of gear… today I would carry even more.

    You will be responsible for your own first aid for waaaay too long. Have more than just Hello Kitty band aids. AT LEAST one Tourniquet and as many dressings as you can carry. Feminine napkins are a poor substitute, but hugely better than a handful of nothing. Ever since the original MacGyver TV series, I try to carry duct tape. Its just too useful not to carry.

    So the key is pay attention. You’re not a sheep, sheep don’t read this blog. Pay attention, just like you pay attention when you have to work late and walk to your car in a bad neighborhood. Pay attention, make good decisions and make them fast. This is not the time to draw flow charts or measure 21 feet. Pay attention, Decide, and ACT.


    1. Thanks for the comment.

      While accuracy at distance could be of vital importance in an active shooter situation, the experience that John and I had in Greg Ellifritz’s “Terrorist Bombs and Bombers” class left us with the same impression: spotting a bomber, even with all the “tells” you outlined above, is all but impossible in any sort of a crowd. We viewed several videos, some several times, that showed real suicide bombers. We found that identifying the bomber entering a large, European-style train station, or walking through a crowded marketplace in Pakistan, or walking through a subway station, was impossible. Indeed, in these cases, we KNEW there was a bomber, yet still could not find him! Thus, unless the bomber is virtually right next to you exhibiting all of the signs you mentioned (which Greg Ellifritz outlined in one of his blog posts), it’s hard for me to fathom even a trained person (LE, Mil, executive protection specialist) identifying such a bomber in advance and then being able to do something about it. Also, in several recent bombing cases, there was a “handler” or “protector” for the bomber, so that, should someone make a move against the bomber, this other person was there to interdict such efforts (also probably there in case the bomber lost the nerve at the last instant). And then, to top it all off, as you mentioned in your comment, if you’re wrong and the person turns out to NOT be a bomber……well, you’ll be watching your kids grow up through prison glass.

      In short, I think stopping a terrorist bomber with well-placed face shots from 25 yards is a pipe dream. Better to avoid large gatherings in public places. For example, if you must go to a concert, go early so that you’re not in a long security line going in. Perhaps linger inside after the event until the majority of the crowd has left the venue, then make your exit. And, as you mentioned, get some trauma medicine training and carry trauma medicine gear with you at all times.–Robert


  2. Yeah, I’m going to pass on making 25 yard headshots in a crowd, dude. Sorry I won’t meet your training standard, but I’m not CAG, DEVGRU or even SWAT. Even if you make the shot, he’s probably got a dead man’s switch and a handler out of the blast radius with the detonator on speed dial.

    I don’t like being disarmed for sports events, shows, etc, and don’t go to many, but I’m also not willing to be a hermit. Live life best as you can, be ready as you can to help if something happens, and try not to worry about everything. BTDT, and the mania isn’t worth it.


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