By Jeffrey Hawkins
More than a week after the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, questions are still being raised about what measures were in place to prevent such an incident and what, if anything, could have possibly made a difference in the outcome.
To some, this may seem like hindsight and speculation, however, as with all incidents of this type, review, discussion, and (if needed) change, are critical.
The United States has experienced its share of active shooter incidents in all types of venues, from fast-food restaurants to senior centers to shopping malls. But the fact that this was a movie theater, coupled with the tactics used by the shooter, raises questions about security in such a venue.
In an article written immediately after the incident, three suggestions were given that may have prevented or at least minimized the extent of the incident. One of the suggestions was to have a security presence (such as uniformed off-duty police). This suggestion has become a point of contention on several fronts.
First, it is unclear if this particular theater did have any security personnel in place, as it had in other theaters. News media states that there were not any security personnel present, however other unconfirmed reports state that there were.
It is unknown what deterrent effect having an officer(s) present that night would have had, but we do know from experience, and especially with this particular offender, that these types of incidents are often well planned out. Chances are high that the offender visited the venue at least once before the incident to map out a plan and see what was and was not present – we know this as reconnaissance.
The other point of contention being debated is, even if there were one or two armed security or off-duty police officers present, what difference could they have made during the incident?
Some law enforcement personnel have stated that an officer armed only with a handgun would have been no match for an offender who was armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun and a handgun; but there are some flaws to this argument.
According to the Ohio-based SEALE Police Academy, during an active shooter, every minute that goes by without a shooter being engaged, 2.5 people die and when a shooter is engaged (by armed officers), they stop killing people. So even if the offender could not be stopped by force, maybe the engagement would have lessened the number of victims?
The active shooter incident at a Carthage, North Carolina nursing home in 2009 supports this theory where a single police officer (the only officer on-duty in the entire county that Sunday morning) confronted and shot the shooter armed with four weapons. This action stopped the killing of helpless elderly patients.
The issue of handgun versus this particular offender’s weapons may be a moot point. It appears from reports that the rifle jammed almost immediately, he ran out of shotgun shells, and resorted to his handgun. But even if the shooter had chosen a regular 30-round magazine for the rifle (which probably would not have malfunctioned), there have been incidents where a single officer with a handgun stopped a shooter with an assault rifle.
The case of the Colorado Springs church shooting in 2007 showed that a security officer with a revolver can stop an active shooter with a rifle.
Debate and discussion of these incidents is helpful and should continue as long as the end result is that change is made to prevent or minimize future incidents. As law enforcement and security professionals all unfortunately know, there will always be future active shooter incidents to train and prepare for.