What should you do if you're confronted with a gun-wielding madman?

Answers to your questions about the news.
April 20 2007 6:28 PM

Fight or Flight at Virginia Tech

What should you do when confronted with a gun-wielding madman?

Eyewitnesses at Monday's Virginia Tech massacre described a chaotic scene in which some professors fought back against Cho Seung-Hui, a group of students blocked off their classroom door, and many others sought safety under their desks. What should you do when confronted with a gunman?

Fight or flee, depending on the situation. Running away should be your first plan, when possible. At 20 feet from the gunman, you're still within a deadly range, but at 40 feet, you're a difficult shot. If he starts to shoot as you're making your escape, try to run in a zigzag or another unpredictable pattern. To escape through an upper-floor window, find a drain pipe or a ledge that can slow your descent or let you slide down part of the way. You'll likely hurt your ankles when you land, so be prepared to break the fall with a quick roll. Protect your body by rolling over one shoulder, diagonally across the back and onto the opposite hip.

If there's no way out, then assess the situation. Most robberies, for instance, end without violence, so it may make sense to cooperate with the gunman. If you're confronted with a determined psychopath, fighting would be a better option.

If the killer opens fire, you'll want to take cover behind heavy furniture. Hiding is only a temporary strategy, though, since a gunman like Cho may plan to kill everybody in a room. At least two of the students at Virginia Tech survived by playing dead, but if they had more time on their side, they and others could have gone on the offensive.

To disarm a gunman, you'll need to take his focus off his weapon and his plan of attack. To do this, you might throw chairs, laptops, or fire extinguishers at him, or set off the sprinkler system or fire alarm. Then, you'd want to pick up a desk or some other shield and charge right at the killer. There's a chance you'll be killed in the process, but if two or three people rush at once, there's also a chance that somebody will take him down. (Unarmed civilians who band together have a much better chance of surviving an attack.)

If you're already within a step or two of the gunman, you might be able to grab his weapon. If he's facing you, quickly reach up and take hold of the barrel, and then aim it away from your body. The move should be as clean and economical as possible. The gunman will reflexively pull the gun back away from you. Go with him: Keep gripping the gun and push your weight forward. Then, punch him in the face or the throat as hard as you can. Hit him on the nose, jab your fingers into his eyes, or strike him with the heel of your open palm. Then use your free hand to grab the nonbusiness end of the gun. With two hands on the gun, you can knee the killer in the groin or head-butt him. A better idea might be to twist your hands like they are revving a motorcycle engine. The weapon will pivot and break the gunman's finger inside the trigger guard.

Of course, this wouldn't have worked at Virginia Tech, since Cho had one gun in each hand. In that case, your best option would be to grab both weapons and hold the gunman off with kicks until another person can help disarm him.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Richard Kobetz of Executive Protection Institute and John Whitman of Krav Maga Worldwide.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You

It spreads slowly.

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?