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Surviving a School Shooter: Important Strategies they Don't Teach your Kids or Teachers.

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

The recent shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that has killed 19 children and two adults and marks the 27th school shooting this year. We all want to protect our children from its known occurrence, but most if not all the solutions posed have become politically charged and hotly debated with little consensus. We already know the brain of a young male doesn’t fully mature until his mid-twenties or later, adding to poor and impulsive decisions with little thought about the long-term consequences. Plenty of respected research points to a strong correlation between bullying and school shootings as well as mental health and school shootings. Insert easy access to guns to the mix and well, maybe it all looks like one big, surreal video game to some school shooters. Except, there’s no reset button when it ends in the slaughter of our children.

I’m not suggesting I have the answer, but I do have an opinion. We must do more to provide a fear-free learning environment for our kids. Either we need to dramatically step up the availability of quality adolescent mental health care, along with the professional supervision of at-risk youth, or we choke off easy access to guns. At a minimum, restrictions on semi-automatic weapons and related assault-style peripherals (bump stocks, high-capacity clips, etc.) would reduce the carnage. Until then, schools MUST limit points of entry and establish screening checkpoints.

In the meantime, if you are a student, teacher, or school staff, there are steps that can be taken to improve your chances of surviving such an ordeal if you are ever faced with it. By now, it should be painfully obvious that waiting for the police or school security to quickly enter and confront the shooter is wishful thinking. Despite national guidelines established since Columbine, and a lot of investment in active shooter training, it almost never happens. Here are the basic strategies you should discuss with your child.


The number one rule is to evade. In other words, immediately determine, if you can, which direction the shots are coming from and run the opposite way, leaving your possessions behind. There is not one material object worth losing your life over. If you are with someone, you’re responsible for, grab him or her, as well as anyone in your path frozen from fear or shock. But, nonetheless, RUN! at your earliest opportunity.

If Trapped in the Classroom, Don’t Huddle. Take Action.

People don’t realize that almost all classroom doors swing out. So, trying to set up a barricade is pointless. You have a better chance running down a hallway than remaining in a classroom awaiting an ambush. Don’t hide under a desk and don’t cluster together. They used to teach us to hide under a desk in the event of a nuclear blast. That was horrible advice then and it is equally horrible advice in the event of an active shooter. Bullets fired from a 9mm pistol will easily pass through a wooden desk with little deviation and keep going and going. An AR-15 semi-automatic rifle will blast through a cinder block wall. Even more perplexing is that the standard operating procedure for most schools is to huddle students and teacher together in the room, which only makes it that much faster and efficient for a shooter with a semi-automatic weapon to kill dozens of victims and move on to the next classroom of sitting ducks. If you’re on a second floor, break windows and jump. Despite the risk of breaking bones, they’ll heal. Better yet, have a compact chain or rope ladder in the classroom for emergency escapes. The person outside the classroom in the hall with the gun has control. You want to be in control. You don’t want to be waiting and hoping if there are any options.

If you can’t lock the classroom door from the inside, use a sturdy belt and slide the buckle over the door handle. Standing against the adjacent wall, on the side where the door opens, wrap the other end of the belt around your hand and pull the belt tight. This will make it very difficult for the attacker to enter, hopefully encouraging him to move on, and you’re safer from gunfire away from the door. Once the door is secured with the belt, enlist fellow students or a teacher to locate items to use as improvised weapons to engage the shooter should he gain entry.

Every classroom has a fire extinguisher. Grab it, pull the pin and discharge the chemical contents in the face of the shooter if he steps across the threshold.

Every classroom has a fire extinguisher. Grab it, pull the pin and discharge the chemical contents in the face of the shooter if he steps across the threshold. If mature and able-bodied, direct a couple of students to position themselves against the wall on both sides of the door. Crouch down low but ready to pounce. Use shirts or bandanas to tie around mouths and noses to keep hands free while providing some breathing protection from the chemical discharge.

All other students who cannot hide in a closet or cabinet should spread out and crouch down along the same wall as the door, forcing the shooter to step further into the room to identify targets. This is the moment to engage. Don’t hesitate.

Force the shooter to step further into the room to identify targets.

This is the moment to engage. Don’t hesitate.

If you see his head slowly poking through the door to scout out any threats, smash his head with the bottom end of the steel cylinder fire extinguisher or another heavy improvised weapon. If he crosses the threshold or begins firing his weapon, blast him with the extinguisher’s chemical contents. Not only will the blast of powdered chemicals obscure the gunman’s vision and make it difficult for him to breath (unless he’s wearing a gas mask), but the unexpected visual disorientation will also provide crucial seconds to tackle the weapon first and then the gunman.

If you are hiding in a vulnerable (or opportunistic) spot outside of the classroom as a shooter approaches you, circumstances may leave you no other choice but to engage the gunman. If you are within 10 feet or less and have a clear path to either side of or the back of the gunman, do not hesitate. Most school shooters are relatively inexperienced with firearms. Reloading his magazine of ammunition will leave you with at least 5 seconds or more to charge him. If you have an opportunity to tackle the gunman from behind or the side, go waist high if possible and sling one arm over the weapon to either pull it tight to the gunman or knock it free. Once the gunman has been overpowered, assume he has one or more weapons on him. Don’t let him grab for it.

In an active shooter situation, the police may have no idea what is going on upon arrival. Because of this, upon encountering them, raise your hands free of anything in them and immediately obey all their instructions. This is good advice here or in general when encountering the police in an obviously tense situation (and watch and listen closely because any encounter can immediately become tense).

Run toward freedom. Not at the police.

The police have a little over a second before they must react to protect themselves, and how many more tragedies do we need to read about where they mistake a cellphone for a weapon? Cops will assume that you are reaching for a weapon. Don’t have the phone in your hand to begin with or drop the damn phone before raising your hands. And you don’t want to run at a cop, especially if you have something in your hand. Even in an active shooter situation, run to freedom, not at the cops. Again, not only are the police unaware of who the shooters are, but even with your hands raised, you may turn out to be in the line of fire.

David Kerr is Master Instructor and Co-founder of FitSport Kinetics, a Pasadena-based athletic and self-defense training center. He’s also co-author of the book “Idiots to Monsters: The Essential Guide to Surviving Common Threats and Violent Encounters.” Contact Dave at or visit his web site at

Illustration courtesy of Washington Post

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