“Run, Hide, Fight” became the federal guidance on how to react to an active shooting after the massacre at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, with people encouraged to consider confronting a gunman if they cannot safely flee or stay out of sight. In the years since, it has been drilled into Americans’ heads in schools, in workplaces, and in private training sessions, a bleak mantra for a nation with hundreds of millions of guns and where mass shootings have become an ever-escalating plague, reports the New York Times. Advocates for stronger gun laws contend that no one should have to put their body on the line in the face of a gunman armed with military-style weapons at a dance hall, a religious service, a mall, or a high school. In recent high-profile massacres, the last resort to fight has been taken up by bystanders, who have attacked gunmen and stopped them before they could continue. Experts say that bystander intervention in active shootings ends the threat in a significant minority of cases, and the forces that drive people to intervene are varied. In many situations, bystanders are unable to run or hide, trapped in classrooms or churches with attackers who are armed with high-powered weapons.
In Colorado Springs in November, two bystanders, including an Army veteran, physically subdued an assailant who had entered a nightclub and killed five people in a matter of seconds. Near Indianapolis last summer, an armed bystander fatally shot a gunman who had already killed three people in a mall food court. In Los Angeles County last weekend, a dance hall employee wrestled an assault pistol out of the hands of a gunman who had already shot 20 people at another venue and seemed bent on more mayhem. Gun massacres at a Parkland, Fl., high school, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tx., are examples of shootings where police or school security personnel were criticized as being slow to help civilians once a shooting was underway. Some who are confronted by an armed assailant have understood instantly: They are on their own. Deputizing the public as a tool of last resort has not caused the pace of mass shootings to slow down. Already this year, at least 69 people have died in at least 39 separate shootings in which four or more people were injured or killed, says to the Gun Violence Archive. Advocates for stricter gun laws said that outsize attention on bystander interventions could distract from the deeper issue of the unrelenting cycle of gun violence. “Instead of focusing on why these tragedies keep happening, we focus on the heroic acts of the bystander,” said Shannon Watts of the gun-control organization Moms Demand Action. “We should always call a hero a hero and thank them for selflessly putting their life on the line. But it makes me so angry that we never stop to think about the fact that we shouldn’t be asking average civilians to be heroes.”