I wonder, as they heard about the people killed at Columbine High School, at Virginia Tech, at a Texas army base, in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, in a grocery story parking lot in Tuscon, Ariz., in a grade school in Newtown, Conn., if the people employed at the Washington Navy Yard ever, once, said to themselves, “It can’t happen here.”
It can, of course, and it did. The story is becoming an all too familiar one. A person with psychological issues takes a legally purchased weapon into a public place filled with people, opens fire and takes numerous lives.
This time, the setting was the Washington Navy Yard, located hard by the Anacostia River in southeast Washington, D.C. This time, there were 12 victims, 13 if you count the shooter, Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old former Naval reservist.
Alexis was said by some to be angry, frustrated and vengeful, prone to fits of anger. He reportedly was obsessed with violent video games, often staying up all night playing them. When a friend was unable to continue giving him rides to job interviews or to buy groceries, he is believed to have poured sugar in her car’s gas tank.
Monday morning, he snapped. Why, we may never know. But we know the results. A dozen innocent people are dead and eight are recovering from injuries, including a Washington policeman.
In the wake of Alexis’ orgy of violence, families are shattered, including his. And the rest of us are settling into what is becoming an all-too-familiar routine. We decry the shooting, mourn the victims, set up makeshift shrines, investigate the incident, debate the merits of gun control and swear it will never, ever happen again.
But it will, of course. Former New York, Boston and Los Angeles police commissioner Bill Bratton, now a consultant for NBC News, said on Tuesday’s “Today” show that the number of mass shootings, “the pace of them,” is increasing, in part because of “the ready availability of firearms.”
That fact is not likely to change. There are a lot of guns in this country, and will continue to be, despite the fears of many that gun control advocates will somehow be able to wrest firearms from the hands of legal gun owners. That’s not going to happen. The 2nd Amendment remains the law of the land. Even in liberal Colorado, where voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, two Democratic state senators were recently recalled because they helped pass new gun laws.
So what can we do, other than say to ourselves in the wake of another spate of senseless violence, “It can’t happen here,” when we know it can, in any school, theater, shopping center, place of business, industrial facility, even military base?
In his “Today” interview, Bratton pointed out that, since the Washington Navy Yard is a military compound, those serving and working there were trained to deal with an active shooter scenario. That, he said, likely saved lives.
So it would behoove all of us to seek similar training. The Department of Homeland Security has information on dealing with active shooter situations on its website, at www.dhs.gov /active-shooter-prepared ness.
The basics are simple: When confronted by an active shooter, there are three possible actions — flee, hide and, in an absolute last resort, fight.
Your first, best option is to evacuate, to have an escape route and plan in mind in advance, and if a shooting occurs, to execute that plan to get away as quickly as possible. Leave everything behind, don’t take anything with you, and keep your hands visible at all times. You don’t want the first law enforcement responders on the scene to think you might have a weapon by running with a hand in a pocket.
If you can’t run, hide. Lock the doors and block them with anything you can reach, climb under a desk or behind a filing cabinet, get in a closet. And silence your phone. That ringing phone might be the last sound you hear.
And if you have absolutely no other choice, and your life is in immediate danger, fight. Try everything you can to incapacitate the shooter. Throw things, use anything as a weapon you can get your hands on. Hit, gouge, scratch, claw. Aim for the vulnerable spots, like the eyes, the throat and the genitals.
How sad it is that we live in a world that requires us to prepare for such eventualities.
It can’t happen here. Keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better.
But it isn’t true.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.