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Unarmed Defense: 8 Steps to Take Down an Active Killer

“Buckeye Alert: Active Shooter on campus. Run Hide Fight. Watts Hall. 19th and College.”

This tweet went out from the OSU Police last year when a Somali refugee drove his car into a crowd and then attacked others with a knife. It is a typical way to communicate important, timely information and in an active-killer event, it is not atypical “advice.”

Active Shooter

Here’s the thing: What the hell does “Run-Hide-Fight” mean? Children learn to run and to hide. These things are encouraged in games and sports. However, “fight” is not taught; it is discouraged and punished. So, fast-forward and those same children are now in college, and a tweet is sent out about fighting an active shooter. What tools do these students have? What training have they received? The answer is almost always “none,” because while decision makers are quick to embrace this tagline, they often ignore or eschew the notion of fighting an active killer. It is shameful, and it is why one man can take over a nightclub in Orlando with 300 people in it and meet zero resistance. Our society created that.  Our society has told us to hide and wait for help. At Pulse nightclub that’s what happened, and 50 people died. 

Americans need to arm themselves, not necessarily or exclusively with weapons, but with skills to neutralize a killer. No one in American skies will take over a plane with box cutters again. Why isn’t that the case with active killers?

Whether armed, unarmed or administering care, knowing how to respond during such events is critical. Some things to consider (from the many that we teach):

Act Fast

  • Running and hiding are fine, if tactically sound. However, fighting might make the difference in whether or not you and your loved ones survive violence. (Over 80% of active killer events end with force.) 
  • Tackling a killer has worked often, and it is one strategy we teach. While tackling from behind is ideal, it may not be an option. 
  • We teach students to hit the killer low, driving with as much force as possible, forcing the killer down. 
  • Once down, our goal is to keep him down, since killers typically carry multiple weapons and may have accomplices.
  • Students are taught to use strikes after the tackle to neutralize further attacks. Weapons should be secured or made ready, if the defender has the requisite skills.
  • If a tackle is not possible or advisable, controlling the firearm is a viable option. Redirecting the line of fire and getting hands on the weapon are critical.
  • If a disarm is not immediately possible, the defender can interrupt the firearm’s cycle of operation by firmly grabbing the slide, covering the ejection port, or pressing the magazine release. Each action will prevent the weapon from firing beyond the chambered round.
  • If defenders lack training, are impaired or just lack the confidence to engage, we encourage the use of improvised weapons such as chairs, fire extinguishers, scissors, etc.

First Aid

Because those on the scene are the first responders, knowledge of basic trauma care is essential:

  • Responders should know how to keep blood in the body; massive hemorrhaging is the number-one cause of death in these events. 
  • Assuming the threat neutralized, apply direct pressure to bleeding injuries. If a tourniquet is available, apply it as high and as tight as possible on the injured limb.
  • If no tourniquet is available or the injury is not to a limb, pack the wound with as much gauze as possible, direct someone else to hold pressure, and move to the next victim.

Training matters. Whether responders are armed or unarmed, practicing engagement in realistic scenarios is ideal, but having a plan of action is a must. If you are on the scene, YOU are the first responder. Act accordingly.

Ryan Hoover is the co-founder of Fit to Fight®, an international training organization that focuses on self-protection, defensive tactics, fighting and athletic performance.  

Ryan Hoover is a frequent contributor to Skillset Magazine! You can check him out on our podcast, Skillset Live, or pick up a back issue at! Now get out there and learn these moves!

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