Training to take down an active shooter

While politicians and activists argue over gun regulations and mental health services following the shooting in Parkland, Fla., some people are deciding to take things into their own hands – literally.

At the Krav Maga training center in Goleta, students are learning how to take down an active shooter. It’s the only school in the region that provides this kind of training, and the class size grows each time there’s a shooting. 

“The first thing that comes to mind is I wish I didn’t have to do this,” said Leana Gutierrez, who helps teach the seminar. “I can’t go to a nightclub, a restaurant, an office building, work, without having to worry about someone having a bad day and deciding to take it out on their people.”

The school regularly teaches classes like combat cardio, women’s self defense and youth martial arts, but for the past four years it’s been offering active shooter seminars. 

“The fact that we have that many people here now taking it seriously is just showing that now, unfortunately it’s become a reality,” said Gutierrez.

Fighting back could keep you alive

The class is made up of half men, half women, mostly in their 20s to 40s. (Kathryn Barnes/KCRW)

Chief instructor Pedro Sanchez begins the class by going over the importance of fighting back. Once an active shooter walks into the room huddling under a desk or in a corner makes you an easy target, said Sanchez.

“It’s like shooting fish in a barrel,” said Sanchez. “Remember – they are there to do mass killing, so their goal is to not do this easy, not to do this lightly, and you have to be prepared to fight every instance and every minute you can at that point for your life.”

He uses the 1999 Columbine High School massacre as an example.

“In one of the classrooms, I think here was a total of 14 people, and there was 10 deaths and 2 injuries. In another room there was 19 people, and there were 2 deaths and about 4 injuries. What they did is they barricaded the room, they threw whatever they could. They put things in front of them. They fought back.”

Practice in an elevated state

Breaking into partners, students warm up by practicing quick punches and high kicks while Korn blasts from the speakers.

“We try to play in a place where your heart rate is jumping out,” said Sanchez. “Your heart rate is beating at an elevated rate. Your anxiety levels are through the roof. Your knees are weak. Your mouth is dry. You’re shaking. You don’t know what to do.”

Active shooter role play

Then the guns come out. First, trainers hand out plastic hand guns. Sanchez said some of them imitate the sound of gunshots.

In groups of three, one person pretends to be the shooter and the other the target. The third person comes from the side and, using an up-and-down scissor move, knocks the gun out of the shooter’s hands.

Pairs of three become pairs of four, and the plastic hand guns are replaced with wooden rifles. Since larger guns are harder to karate chop out of a shooter’s hands, the second exercise is all about using force and collective strength to overcome the shooter.

Each person in the group takes turns being the active shooter walking through an invisible door.

The person closest to the door grabs the shooter’s arm at the wrist and spins the gun up. The second person goes for the ankles to flip the person onto the ground. The third person reinforces the group from behind, keeping the shooter pinned.

“It feels really powerful, being able to test my limits and get actual tools and tips on where to put my hands,” said Tiffany Janelle. This is her first time taking a self defense class. She has a young son and works as a nurse, and said she came to this class because she has an instinct to protect her family and patients.

“What would I do if someone came into the hospital? What would I do sitting in the nurses station? As a mom, I want to fighting,” she said. “I don’t want to be hiding and huddling in some closet somewhere.”

Staying calm in crisis

The class ends with a human barricade exercise. As each person pushes through, everyone else tries as hard as they can to push the person back. People fall and get back up. Sweat pours down their faces. It’s not over until you make it to the other side.

“This kind of training doesn’t just help if, god forbid, there’s an active shooter,” said Sanchez. “It helps everywhere. It helps if there’s an earthquake, if there’s a fire, if you come across an accident and you’re able to be a little more collected. A little more calm. You’re going to be able to help pull somebody out of a car that’s flipped over and on fire instead of sitting back, because your mind and your heart rate and everything else has been there.”

In Goleta, the next class will be offered on March 28th.