How can we solve the problem of active shooters?

By aggressively problem-solving this deadly phenomenon, we become part of the solution

Shouting won’t stop the shooting! It’s time for every American to realize that when it comes to stopping active killers we are all on the same side of the issue.

I believe that if passionate professionals apply problem-solving skills we can help prevent future active shooter events, but we must be careful not to commit three common errors:

1. Having a closed mind

This photo from video by KDFW Fox4 shows law enforcement personnel gathered outside a high school in Italy, Texas, following an active shooter incident at the school Monday morning, Jan. 22, 2018.
This photo from video by KDFW Fox4 shows law enforcement personnel gathered outside a high school in Italy, Texas, following an active shooter incident at the school Monday morning, Jan. 22, 2018. (Photo/KDFW Fox4 via AP)

A prerequisite for problem-solving is to possess an open mind. The solution to any persistent problem may require an untried and innovative approach since reoccurring problems exist because the right combination of fixes have not yet been applied. We cannot problem-solve when new ideas are shouted down as soon as they are brought up. We need open minds to at least consider every idea brought forward. As Yoda would say, “Consider them you must!”

2.  Misidentifying the problem

Too often people misidentify the problem. For example, after many active killer events, guns are identified as the culprits and there is a call for more “gun control.” Without specifics, those two words are discussion killers for many.

Guns are not always the weapon of choice. Knives, cars, trucks and bombs have been used by killers as well. Also lost in the rhetoric is the fact that killers are often stopped by the arrival of a good guy or gal with a gun.

3.  Creating another problem with a proposed solution

Sometimes a solution to a problem can cause unintended consequences. For example, consider an attempt at the implementation of an Australian-like disarming of the American public. What is the predictable outcome of this? In this country, any governmental call to totally disarm all would be a call to arms for many.

We must try!

We owe the victims of active killers to try our best to bring about an end to, or reduction of, killings. Many future events can be prevented, and much more can be done to harden potential targets as we saw in Israel 40 years ago.

Comprehensive problem-solving efforts should be pursued by those individuals who are in a position to discourage, prevent, or even stop an active killer. These folks include:

  • Local/state police
  • FBI
  • First responders, firefighters, EMTs and paramedics
  • Mental health professionals
  • News media
  • Law makers
  • Movie makers and gaming companies
  • Businesses and transit authorities
  • Schools
  • NRA.

The goals of any problem-solving effort should be to:

  • Eliminate the problem;
  • Reduce the frequency of the problem;
  • Improve the response to the problem;
  • Improve the public’s perception of the response;
  • Prevent the problem.      

How to apply problem-solving tactics

I believe in the power of the process when problem-solving. As an active street officer and tactical operator/commander, I employed one of these two problem-solving tactics:

1. OODA Loop for Quick Reaction

For a sudden problem/threat, I used the widely used tactic developed by fighter pilot John Boyd called the OODA Loop, which stands for:

  • Observe (the problem/threat)
  • Orient (yourself to the problem/threat)
  • Decide (on the action you need to take to prevail)
  • Act!

The OODA Loop is applicable if you find yourself alone at the scene of an in-progress active killer.

2. SARA for Reoccurring Problem Solving

For solving reoccurring problems, Herman Goldstein’s SARA model was my weapon of choice. SARA stands for:

  • Scanning
  • Analysis
  • Response
  • Assessment

Step 1 - Scanning

The first step of problem-solving is scanning. During this process, you will identify the problem. In the case of the active killer that problem could be stated like this:

Nationwide, killers who possess a variety of motivations are choosing to attack soft targets, including schools, churches, malls, transportation venues and public areas using guns, knives, cars, trucks and bombs.

(It is important to note that while problem-solving you can’t push a pause button on a problem. You need to take interim action or as Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor Kyle Kashuv more urgently declares, “…immediate action.”)

Step 2 - Analysis

Gather facts about active killer events that have occurred, as well as those that were prevented or stopped. Identify the actors such as the killers, law enforcement, victims, mental health officials, teachers, employers, neighbors, first responders and security. Determine their actions or inactions. Use 20-20 hindsight to analyze what worked and what did not. Determine what made the situation worse, or what could have been done to positively change the outcome.

Step 3 - Response

After collecting as much information about what has worked and what has not, your problem-solving group can jointly put together a planned response. This action plan should be detailed, specific and reviewed.

After this is finalized, everyone involved in the response should know exactly what their responsibilities are. To achieve success, pre-training and rehearsals by those expected to execute any plan is an imperative.

Step 4 - Assess

Anytime a plan is practiced, either in training or the real world, it behooves the problem solvers to honestly assess the results and revise the plan if necessary.

The value of a Five Phase Response Plan

In problem-solving the active killer, it is important to plan for an effective response, not only just to the killing in progress during the “Implementation Phase,” but also to outline comprehensive responses for dealing with potential active killers when contacted during their progression through the “Fantasy, Planning, Preparation and Approach” phases. Effective responses in these phases can prevent tragedies and save lives.


We live in a time where people think they can solve problems with a ribbon, a tweet, a hash tag, or a GIF. This misperception has become part of the problem.

By aggressively problem-solving this deadly phenomenon, we become part of the solution.

Please share your thoughts on how we can solve one of our nation’s most pressing problems in the comments section below.

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