Research data appears not to support students fighting gunmen

Posted by on February 16, 2014

January, 2014*

An academic research report often pointed to by advocates for teaching students and teachers to fight heavily armed gunmen presents data showing that the majority of 21 active shooters in K-12 schools were NOT stopped by citizens subduing the gunman.

Data provided from a forthcoming book chapter on active shooters in schools by one of the lead researchers, Dr. J. Pete Blair, indicates that 29% (6 actual incidents) of 21 active shooter events in K-12 schools between 2000 and 2012 involved the shooters being subdued by citizens. This means that more than two-thirds (71%) of the shooters were not subdued by citizens. The majority of these events ended due to reasons including the shooter completing suicide, being subdued by police, leaving the scene, being shot by police, or by surrendering. One incident involved the shooter being shot by a civilian.

Blair, the Director of Research for the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) at Texas State University, told me in an email that “1 out of 6 ASE’s ends because the people on the scene subdue the attacker. In most of these situations, the people who stop the attacker have been unarmed. Several of these involve schools.”

The data Blair was referencing in this quote was cited in a January, 2014, article Blair co-authored in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. According to the authors, who cited 104 overall active shooter events (school and non-school), only 17 active shooters (school and non-school) were stopped by the potential victims themselves. This means that in only about 16% (or Blair’s description of 1 out 6) of the time were active shooters actually subdued by the target(s) of the attack.

The relatively few number of events (6) in K-12 schools where citizens subdued the active shooter, and the small percentage (16% or 1 in 6) of the overall cases of all active shooters studied being subdued by citizens, begs one to ask if this data supports a public policy of teaching school staff and children to fight heavily armed gunmen. Clearly the vast majority of active shooter events are resolved in manners other than the intended victim subduing the active shooter. In a data-driven, research-based world of academia, we would expect the data to support the proposed policy and practice.

Yet in a January 19 email, Blair wrote:

“We teach Avoid, Deny, Defend – This is similar the the federal Run, Hide, fight, but we do not like the the passive connotation of the hide term.  Our first preference is to get away, The second is to keep the attacker from getting to you and the last is to defend yourself. There may be situations where someone would throw something at an attacker, but we would only suggest that if it was being done to distract the attacker while closing distance.  We absolutely encourage potential victims to defend themselves if they cannot avoid the attacker or deny him access to their location.  We teach teachers to place their students on the same wall as the door and to stand near the door without being in front of it.  If the gunman comes in, the teacher should grab the gun and fight. Depending on the age of the kids, they should either help the teacher fight or they should run out of the door while the teacher is fighting. We suggest the teacher talking to the students and telling them either to run if someone comes in or to help fight. We do not teach specific fighting tactics to kids. It is an ugly situation, but the only other option it to let the attacker murder you.”

But I pressed Blair on whether his research data, not what he has chosen to teach, supports teaching children to fight or otherwise attack heavily armed gunmen, especially given age and developmental, special needs and other unique child-centered factors:

“Is it fair to say that from an academic research perspective the data from this study does not support teaching children such tactics or do you feel your actual data supports it? I just want to be clear.  I believe setting prek-12 policies and practices must favor In age, developmental, special needs and other unique prek-12 factors, but I want to see if from a research data perspective you feel your study bears out data showing it is warranted.  It seems like a very, very small portion of the incidents in your study in prek-12 involved attackers being stopped by students and teachers, and I am unclear as to how the data would support the policy and training many are advising for teachers and students.”

As of nearly a month later, Dr. Blair has not responded to this follow-up question.

I commend Dr. Blair and his colleagues for their research. But I also question whether the data (both the small number of actual school events as well as the smaller percentage of incidents overall where potential victims subdued their attacker) justifies the risky proposition of teaching children and teachers to attack heavily armed gunmen. While Blair advocates such a practice, as of this writing he has yet to confirm that he believes his actual research data supports the actual policy and practice he is advocating specifically for preK-12 schools. My interpretation and professional opinion is that it does not.

*This review was originally drafted in late-January 2014, but was not immediately published due to our web site and blog redesign.

Ken Trump

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2 thoughts on “Research data appears not to support students fighting gunmen

  1. John Henderson says:

    Of those students and teachers that stopped incidents, did some of them include situations where the attacker was talked out of it and never even fired a shot? That would be an entirely different scenario that should not be counted toward establishing that teachers and students should be fighting an attacker.

  2. Chuck Hibbert says:

    Ken, Thanks for taking the time to research and write this piece. It is important that schools understand the value of a properly locked down classroom and how it can protect children. Too many people are advocating other tactics for their own self interest.

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