Take Another Look: Common Weapons and Tools

May 5, 2020
Active "shooters" often use other weapons of mass mayhem and/or tools to secure their area of attack.

There is a reason why these events were dubbed “active shooter” attacks: because firearms are obviously used in the large majority of them. That said, firearms aren’t the only weapon ever used and we need to protect against assuming firearms are the only threat. In this piece we’re going to look at some of the other weapons, the firearms, types, etc. and more.

Referencing the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center report on Mass Attacks in Public Places in 2018, firearms were reportedly used and the primary means of committing the violence in 24 of the 27 attacks. In the remaining three attacks, a vehicle was the primary weapon used. Other weapons used have included improvised explosive devices, swords, knives and other tools. Additionally, active attackers have used other tools to secure a hunting space, i.e. Cho at Virginia Tech using chains and padlocks to barricade one wing of Norris Hall before he began his attack.

Where firearms are used, it’s actually a rare occasion wherein the attacker only has one weapon. In a great many events, attackers are armed with two or more firearms OR they have a firearm and other weapons. One of the most high profile events – due to the location and high casualty count – was the Route 91 Harvest music festival attack that occurred in Las Vegas in October, 2017. Stephen Paddock was armed with 23 rifles and one revolver. Of the 23 rifles, 22 were semi-automatic and one was bolt-action. The rifles were predominantly in two calibers: .223 and .308. In addition to the weapons he had stockpiled across the span of the previous week in the hotel, Paddock had also carried in tools which he used to barricade doors to the floor his rented rooms were on and the doors to the rooms themselves. He had used steel brackets to screw the doors to the frames to hold them shut. The most likely scenario is that he used an electric drill as his driver to put the screws in (this author isn’t privy to those details of the investigative report(s) and is making a reasonable assumption).

That is one of the most recent incidents. Taking a look back at another historically significant event, when Charles Whitman committed his attack from the top of the “Texas Tower” – the main building located on the University of Texas at Austin – he had stockpiled three rifles, a shotgun, three pistols and a machete. Each rifle was in a different caliber than the others, as was each handgun.

Rifles and handguns are obviously the most commonly used weapons. Explosives are also quite common, even if not detonated or successfully used in an attack and most, if not all, active shooter response training includes a portion of instruction of being aware of explosives and what to do if they are encountered.

One of the earliest documented school attacks in the United States was in 1927 and was committed almost 100% with explosives. In May 1927, Andrew Kehoe used dynamite and firebombs to commit simultaneous attacks at the Bath Consolidated School building in the elementary school wing and at his farm. After he detonated those explosives, he waited for people to arrive in response and then he drove a secondary explosive device – a vehicle-born explosive (more in a moment) – into the schoolyard and detonated the dynamite he had packed inside shrapnel in his truck. This secondary explosion killed Kehoe and four of the rescuers on scene along with injuring several others.

In the attack committed at Columbine High School in 1999, Harris and Klebold placed several improvised explosive devices in the cafeteria and around the property. Thankfully, they were incompetent at wiring the detonators and the devices failed to detonate. Had all the bombs they placed detonated and exploded effectively, they were powerful enough to have injured or killed dozens more people in and around the areas they were located (cafeteria, parking lot and another location nearby).

The primary lesson to be learned from these historical events is this: responding officers can never assume that they are dealing only with a shooter (or sword wielder, machete swinger, etc.). History shows that active attackers rarely have a single weapon or a single method for committing mayhem. Officers should be alert for suspicious looking devices or other weapons near at hand as they engage an attacker. This is a challenge, at best, as officers are amped up on adrenaline, moving as quickly as they can to an attacker, experiencing sensory overload in the environment due to alarms, screams, panicked people, sometimes smoke and/or sprinkler systems.

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