What Do I Do When Someone IS Shooting At Me? – Marc MacYoung


What Happens When Someone really IS trying to Kill You 
I have lot of experience with different kinds of violence? Rather than try to tell you all about how much violence I’ve been in, I’ll tell you the last time I was shot at was 16 years ago. That’s a new record for me. In my entire adult life (I’m 52) I have never gone that long in between shooting incidents. I was 14 the first time I was shot at. I tended to average between two to five years between incidents. And that doesn’t count people trying to stab me, run me over with cars, etc., etc..

What you may not realize about this is I developed a distaste for people who get slapped around and then turn around claim the person was trying to kill them. Been there, done that … NOT the same. Not even in the same ballpark. But man will they tell you all about their trauma drama from the experience and how dangerous it was.

To combat this hyperbole, I came up with a list of the six most common results when someone IS trying to kill you. They are:
1) You die 
2) You spend a long time in the hospital 
3) Someone runs away (usually you) 
4) You shoot back (often prompting the other person to retreat) 
5) You retaliate with such ferocity that the other person is injured, killed or runs away 
6) Someone else intervenes resulting in some combination of 1-5. **

If those weren’t the results, then the person WASN’T trying to kill you — no matter WHAT you want to believe or tell others.

If he physically assaulted you, was he meaning to inflict pain? Probably. Did he mean to cause you physical injury? Probably not. Did he mean to kill you? Odds are seriously against it.

That is because violence is usually mixed with other motivations. We strongly suggest that you follow that last link. It goes to a section explaining how violence is a multifaceted tool. A tool often used in the context of social order, behavior enforcement, territorial and resource control. Violence used to achieve these ends is not only common, but it is overwhelmingly self-limiting. That means once the immediate goal is achieved, the physical violence stops — for that incident.

People intending to kill you usually don’t stop until a) they’ve succeeded, b) they believe they have succeeded or c) the danger to them becomes too great to continue.

That is why you must look at what happens before it becomes physical — even with weapons. Because what is going on before the weapon is drawn and what occurs while the weapon is displayed is critical for assessing what is the best course of action for you.

threat display or the different kinds of violence are NOT someone TRYING to kill you.

Can they escalate into physical violence? Yes.

Can it go from a simple assault to an aggravated assault? Absolutely.

Can they result in death? Yes (Especially if you try to counter a weapon-based threat display with one of your own).

However — we must stress again — most violence is NOT about killing. It is about achieving a goal.

And this includes someone displaying or brandishing of a weapon. The reason to brandish is so that person doesn’t have to use it.  Although ‘brandishing’ is illegal in most states, the intent is usually to show how serious someone is about their demands.

I often say that ‘I am negotiating until I pull the trigger.’ The importance of this concept cannot be stressed enough. VERY SELDOM does someone ‘just pull a gun and shoot.’ Communication is the norm. While it is possible that the shooter is working his way up to shooting by talking, it is far more common that he is communicating in an attempt so he doesn’t ‘have’ to shoot.

But, people caught up in their emotions about being in conflict don’t look at it this way. In fact, because their monkey brains are driving the bus, they overlook the fact that MOST violence comes with instructions on how to AVOID it!

  • If the guy is waving a gun at you telling you leave or shut up … TAKE HIS ADVICE!!!! 
  • If he’s got a gun in your face saying give him your wallet … DO SO!

While this may sound obvious, the problem is that in conflict, when people are functioning in their monkey brains they are NOT making rational decisions.

The monkey brain is more concerned about emotions, feelings, pride, status and, most of all, winning than anything else. As such, when someone is threatening you with a weapon, the monkey brain is famous for saying things like “You don’t have the guts.”

I really wish I was joking about that.  Or the New York Actress whose last words to the mugger were “What are you going to do? Shoot us?” That was her mouth writing checks…

Or to be more accurate, that was her monkey brain trying show that person with a gun that she was really important and not afraid of him or his little gun

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but the monkey brain is great at getting you into danger, but it sucks at getting you out of it.

By danger we mean physical danger, not conflict. It’s usually your monkey brain that gets you into conflict, drives the conflict — and this is the weird part — both tells you you are in danger and at the same time ignores the actual danger.

On one level (social and self-esteem) the Monkey will convince you this isArmageddon. At the same time it will keep you yelling and screaming at someone … when you should be either running, preparing to fight for your life or changing your behaviors.

And that’s all BEFORE you get to point where the trigger being pulled. Functionally, you have floated from where the perceived ‘dangers’ are to emotions, status and your pride to a point where there is physical danger.

The problem is the Monkey is more concerned with its fears to these other issues. It’s as though it’s saying: Sure there’s some physical danger, but that’s not nearly as important as showing this other monkey I’m right. In fact, it is not uncommon for the Monkey to view a brandished weapon as a bluff. A bluff that the Monkey feels it must call if it is to ‘win.’

Your behavior at this stage has MAJOR INFLUENCE on whether or not bullets come out of that gun. We cannot stress enough that the smart course of action is do to everything in your power to keep the bullets in the gun — even if that means swallowing pride.

So, are we to the ‘what do you do when someone is shooting’ part?

Change Bus Drivers 
Yes and no.

We’re at the point where the first trigger pull is two seconds or less away — or there is a bullet in the air already. At this junction, the first thing you need to do is kick the Monkey out of the driver’s seat.

Not only did it get you into this mess because of its desire to ‘win,’ but when someone attacks you, the Monkey tends to freeze and go ‘homina, homina, homina!” It not only doesn’t know what to do, but it’s going to keep you from doing anything too. It’s great plan to have this other monkey groveling in abject submission and remorse for daring to challenge it (or hurt your feelings) has just failed miserably. When you are physically assaulted after your Monkey’s plan has failed, odds are against you swinging into serious kung fu action. Most people either keep on trying to engage in monkey brain behaviors (screaming and threatening) OR they are overwhelmed by the assault.

Except when the attack involves a weapon, they bleed, often die.

It’s time for the lizard brain to take over. (Besides, odds are the monkey brain got you into this mess in the first place.) Unlike the monkey brain, the lizard brain is not concerned with your pride, status or emotions … it’s goal issurvival. That is what it’s geared towards.

And when the fecal matter is hitting the oscillating blades, that’s who you want driving the bus.

Two good ways to understand the different level of functioning were supplied, first by Ferran Bassols who said: The monkey brain says “I’m more important than this guy. While the lizard brain says “DUCK!” Josh Amos who said: This guy might try to shoot me vs. HOLY S**T! HE’S SHOOTING AT ME!

In both examples, the danger has shifted from a possibility to a reality. There is a very big difference

The problem is that modern life does not afford most the ability to drop into this part of their consciousness.

It might help if you imagine bridges between the parts of your brains. So-called ‘civilized people’ tend to have not just big bridges to get from their human brain (rational/neo-cortex) to their monkey brain (emotional/primate/limbic system), but lots of bridges. Think river or freeway crossings in the city. That means they can easily slip into their monkey brain (1).

However, the ‘bridge’ to their lizard brain is one of those rope and slat bridges you see in jungle action movies. Or, if you’re more urban in your thinking, the lizard brain is considered a bad part of town and most people have only one bridge to it. They don’t spend much time there or know how to get there.

The challenge you face is getting across that bridge and into the lizard brainBEFORE you get shot.

Once you drop into your lizard brain, you are no longer concerned with monkey brain issues. Those are now officially, out the window. There are no more instructions about what to do to avoid violence, there is no more threat of violence; the bullets are flying.

BTW, there is some argument that freezing is the result of a person being incapable of allowing their lizard brain access to the steering wheel. Rory Miller and I have a discussion on the possible causes of freezing and how to overcome it.

When there are bullets in the air, you need to be acting, not worrying about how you feel.


When Someone Is Shooting… 
Well the first question is he shooting at YOU specifically?

Or is he shooting at someone else? (And bullets are mostly flying in one direction.)

Or is he an active shooter? (He’s just shooting at everyone)

These three scenarios will have a lot to do with what is your best strategy. The first one is a lot more complicated. It is also the most common way you’ll get shot at. The reason it is more complicated is it’s usually personal. That person is shooting at you because of your actions that lead to the shooting. He’s there to punish you and usually won’t stop until one of the six results of when someone is trying to kill you * are achieved.(2)

In the last two scenarios, however, most people’s primary goals need to be 
a) to get off the line of fire 
b) get out of the shooter’s sight 
c) get out of the area.

When the shooter is shooting at someone else or just randomly shooting people, odds are, the he’s going to be too busy to follow you. But all in all, these are pretty good default strategies for your lizard brain to implement.

With all three shooting scenarios, think of whatever direction he is facing as him standing at the tip of a slice of pie. The further out it goes the bigger the slice becomes. And that includes behind the target.

What he’s aiming at could be close to him or halfway down the slice … it doesn’t matter. The bullets will still be traveling down that pie slice until they hit something or run out of juice. While running away will help some, you gotta get off that pie slice ASAP.

That is why who’s he shooting at is so important. If he’s shooting at someone else, or everyone, there’s a good chance he won’t move to put you specifically back onto the pie slice.

Another consideration here is: How close are you to the shooter? Notice the three arrows in the picture. If the shooter doesn’t aim correctly — even though he is trying to shoot the target, there is a good chance of missing. In fact, two of the three arrows would miss the target in the illustration. That’s why we use a pie slice to show this.

A problem with someone shooting at you isn’t the size of the bullet, it’s the size of the target you present within the pie slice. For example, look at the illustration above. If you go side to side, at the range/distance the target is shown from the shooter means the target is filling about 1/3 of the pie slice. (You could write ‘target’ three times across where it is on the pie slice).

If you move the word ‘target’ up close to the shooter (right in front of the three arrows), even with variation in aim, there’s a good chance of getting hit. Because when it’s that close, the word target covers most of the lateral area.

On the other hand, if you move the word ‘target’ to the top of the illustration, it would only fill about 1/6 of the possible area the bullet could go (due to bad aim). So the further away you are from the shooter — even on the pie slice — the less likely you are to get shot.

Incidentally, we did the math on this and discovered that at 15 feet a pistol canted just FIVE degrees will miss a human sized target. We then went out to the shooting range and confirmed this. Aim at the X and then bend your wrist just a bit so the gun barrel moves about five degrees You’ll hit the paper, but you won’t hit the silhouette. The greater the distance, the less the degree needs to be to entirely miss the target.

The further from the shooter, the bigger the possible area the bullet can go — and the greater the chances of him missing. This is why — even though it isn’t an optimal strategy — even running straight away from a shooter can save your life.

As can hunkering down as you run. Thereby making yourself a smaller target. The smaller target profile you present, by both distance and crouching,  the greater his chances are of missing. That having been said, you still want to get off the pie slice ASAP.

The second set of factors determining what to do: Are you inside or outside?

And then you have to ask, are you outside in a wide open area or are you in a place where there is cover and concealment?

There’s a difference between these two. I address them in a “Tools for Writers: Don’t get your character shot” piece I did (see below). For the record, the faster you can put a building between you and a shooter the better you’ll be.

If you are inside with an active shooter, get outside NOW!!!

A whole lot of people who get killed in school shootings, workplace shootings and spree shootings die because they crouch down behind something and the shooter walks right up to them. They don’t see him coming because the same thing that hides them from his sight, blocks him from theirs.

Don’t hide behind doors or in closets. Head for the exit. If you have to throw a chair through a window to make an exit, DO IT! Getting into another room will give you time to open an escape route.

The other thing to do when exiting an indoor shooting situation is DON’T STOP!

Keep going. Not only does this lessen the chances of you getting shot by the original shooter, but you being gone makes the decision of who the first responders are going to shoot much easier. And that includes keeping you from being accidentally shot by the responders.

As a side note, many schools and organizations have some short-sighted policies in this regard. People are commonly told to exit the building and wait outside. The reasoning for this policy is the concern that if you run, they won’t know if you’re safe or not.

Our attitude is: That’s what cell phones are for.

Once you are out of there, CALL YOUR LOVED ONES and tell them you are alright. If you don’t do this, then your loved ones will be calling — or worse — rushing to the site to see if you are safe.

People milling around a shooting scene or waiting for instructions from management, administration or teachers not only increases the difficulties for first responders, but also leaves you in danger from the shooter. If you can escape through a window, he can shoot out of one too.

So forget any policy that — while convenient for the school/organization increases your danger. If management is concerned about your well being, then have them set up a hotline to call in case of emergencies.

Add to this that employers, teachers, ministers and most other authority figures probably don’t have much experience getting shot at either. So they’re just as likely to be as freaked out as you are. While getting shot because you made a bad decision sucks, getting shot because someone else made a bad decision really sucks. (We’ll return to this idea in the shooting back section).

If you are outside, get inside. But more than that, don’t just run into a building and then stop and watch what is going on (we call this Prairie Dogging). Enter a building and keep going out the other entrance. This not only gets you out of the pie slice, out of view of the shooter, but a building makes pretty good cover.

If you are outside in a wide open space (where there is no cover or concealment) RUN! Put as much distance between you and the shooter as possible. Remember what we said about distance from the shooter to the target? Make the distance as great as possible.

Often you will find yourself in an outdoor situation that is a blend between open space and offering cover. In these situations your best bet is to utilize cover and concealment AND buying distance. You don’t just duck and cower behind a car. You put the car between you and the shooter and run using the car to cover your escape.

As mentioned earlier, I’m a big fan of making yourself a smaller target by hunching over as you run (3). Ducking down and running between parked cars in a parking lot or behind a row of cars on the street

But perhaps the most important thing is knowing what NOT to do.

Do NOT Prairie Dog! When someone is shooting do not stand there like a prairie dog and look to see what is happening. The sound of repeating gunfire tells you everything you need to know. Not only does this make you a stationary target, but by standing, you put yourself on the same eye level as the shooter. That means HE is more likely to see YOU!

In NO case do I recommend just ducking down behind either cover or concealment and trying to hide. As so many kids in Columbine, Virginia Tech and other spree shootings have discovered, the shooter can just walk up to you then shoot you. No matter how much you beg and plead.

The answer is almost always: Get out! Get out! Get out! (4)

Going back to when it is personal. Another set of consideration is: Is this person just pissed at you or is he really trying to kill you?  Basically this boils down to what is he willing to risk to see you dead?

The reason is that the pissed off person might fire a round or two at you before turning and running off or stopping shooting. But that is usually because he’s achieved his goal of changing your behavior or venting his displeasure. Often if the guy wants you dead, but not at any expense to himself, if his first attempt to get you fail, he won’t chase you and he will limit the number of shots he takes.

For example, he’s willing to shoot you with no witnesses around. BUT while he wants you dead, he doesn’t want to be seen chasing you down the street. The reason being because of the danger to him. Witnesses mean prison.

Another version is that while he’s willing to kill you, he doesn’t want you dead bad enough that he is going to risk you retaliating or someone else doing so. His game plan is you dead, him alive and unhurt.

You will see this behavior quite often in drive by shootings. Where as long as they are the only ones shooting they will fire, but when return fire occurs they skeedaddle away. This incidentally was what happened during my last firefight. When I started shooting back, he decided he didn’t want to play anymore.

On the other hand, if the guy is committed to killing you, then odds are he will continue to try to get you back onto that pie slice and close enough that he can pump multiple rounds into you. This is where those six results of someone really trying to kill you will manifest.

So You Got Shot
There’s a maxim among LEO/firearms instructors about the difference between police and criminals getting shot. “When an officer is shot he is usually found on the ground curled up around his wound. When a criminal is shot, they usually find him three blocks away trying to climb a fence.”

Whether this is an apocryphal ‘ lie to children‘ or is based on reported incidents it, introduces you to an important concept. MOST of what happens when you are shot is based on what you expect to happen when you are shot.

If — after watching countless movies and TV shows where someone gets shot and falls down helpless — you believe that is what happens, that is what you’ll do. If, on the other hand, you believe you can keep going after you’ve been shot (or don’t know that you’ve been shot) then you can keep on going.

The cops/bad guy example is not saying that criminals are some kind of supermen.  It’s just that escape plans tend to blot out other considerations. He still functions because he feels the need to function beyond having been shot.

Simply stated, many people who don’t know they have been shot describe it feeling like they have been punched.  It isn’t until they realize they have been shot that they begin to lose functionality.

This is a critical component for your survival if you are shot.

First off, speaking to an ER doctor, he confirmed the common numbers given about gunshot survival rates. If you get to an ER room with a single gunshot wound, you have about an 80% chance of survival. And that is within TWO HOURS!

Yes, you read that right. Two hours.  While it’s not a ‘you’re shot so what?’ issue, it doesn’t mean you automatically fall down and die. The sooner you get medical treatment the better your chances. To do that you need to keep moving. If you trip, get up and keep moving.

This is critical because if you fall down and curl up your chances of dying go up, WAY UP! That’s because your chances of dying are drastically reduced with every extra bullet you take.

This is why getting out of there IS your best strategy. You can still run with one bullet in you. But if you don’t run and are shot multiple times at point blank range, your odds are not that good.

So let’s review, I’m a big advocate of getting off the pie slice ASAP and putting something in between you and the shooter as you’re doing it. Running works, having a car between you and a shooter AS you’re running works better. Ducking off the street and into a building works. Running through the building and out the other door works better. Inside a building and someone starts shooting, get out.

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