Having a way out is key to surviving mass shooting, former Ranger says

Law enforcement officers regularly train to prepare for active shooter situations, but a retired Texas Ranger says the keys to survival are situational awareness and having a way out. (File)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) A retired Texas Ranger who teaches both police and civilians about responding to mass shootings says the most important key to survival is knowing your surroundings and having a way out.

“Situational awareness, that is knowing where you are and what’s around you, can be the difference between surviving and not surviving a situation,” retired Texas Ranger Matt Cawthon said.

Cawthon spoke during an interview at Waco’s Kim’s Restaurant, at 26th and Waco Drive, where the first thing he pointed out was knowing how to escape.

“When I walked in I noticed the front door, and through the kitchen there is a back door, so two ways out, but what if both of those routes were blocked by a kitchen fire, then what?

“I throw one of these chairs through one of those big windows,” Cawthon said.

“So what, if you do something that makes you look silly,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said, “You look silly but you’re alive.”

Two mass casualty shootings in a span of 13 hours over the past weekend with a death toll more than 30 combined have nerves on edge all over the country.

A local gun store manager at Praco said sales of firearms spiked there on Monday, but only for that one day.

Sadly, he said, the reaction was predictable these days because “it wasn’t bad enough.”

The shootings are a reminder that those things are becoming more and more routine these days and that anyone could be thrust into an immediate and pressing fight to stay alive, usually with a total lack of control.

The fight-or-flight response is natural and flight always is the best choice if possible, Swanton said.

“If you can get away and get you family safely away, that’s always best, but sometimes that may not be possible.”

Another issue Swanton, says, is chronic dependence on a cellphone.

“Some people walk around in a cellphone daze. They are so wrapped up in their phones, texting or whatever, they don’t see or hear things going on around them, so they’re blind to their surroundings,” Swanton said.

But what if escape is not possible and the time to fight has come.

Just don’t give up, Cawthon said.

“Look for a weapon, something handy that might not be a weapon, like a fire extinguisher or a flower vase, anything that can give you a slight advantage to get away.

“A ballpoint pen is a very effective weapon,” Cawthon said.

And what if you’re armed?

An armed person placed in such a situation must immediately make life-changing decisions, like determining what the threat is and whether to engage the threat.

“Once you pull that pistol out of its holster you assume a mantle of responsibility, like what you hit you are responsible for.

“If one of your bullets goes stray and hits a child, that’s on you,” Cawthon said.

As well, as police are screaming toward the scene, if an officers encounters you with a pistol drawn, “he’s going to shoot and ask questions later,” Swanton said.

“If someone uses a firearm in a situation like that the thing to do is put that firearm away before officers arrive, but if you can’t, just make sure you follow the officers’ commands.”

Open carry in Texas doesn’t happen that often, Swanton said, “We see it every once in a while but not that often.”

“I don’t believe open carry offers any benefit to a gun license holder but it does to the bad guy because he now knows who to shoot first,” Swanton said.

"I know it's a man's right to carry an AR-15 over his shoulder out in public, but is there a need to?" Swanton asked.

And if someone walks into a local supermarket with a rifle strapped on, while it might be legal, someone likely will notify police and they will respond.

"We might not arrest you because you have that right, but you're still going to have to deal with us because we will respond and it probably won't be fun," Swanton said.

To gain an advantage over a gunman it benefits an armed person to be a surprise to a gunman, Swanton said.