Burlingame: Should I stay or should I go



Lee’s note: Here’s another guest column from Peter Burlingame, AKA VIGunfighter,  president of the Self Defense Initiative on St. Thomas. Peter’s work is highly recommended. You can access his You Tube Channel here. This is the second part of his series.

by Peter Burlingame

In my first article in this series, I stated that you need to decide NOW what your base reaction to an active attack will be. I’m not talking about the various tactical considerations, but rather the most basic decision; Escape or Fight.

It is absolutely critical that you make that decision NOW and cement it in your mind, make it firm in your heart, so that there is no hesitation. I’ve studied hundreds of attacks over the last two decades and there is always a couple of seconds at the very beginning of the attack that, if you are alert, AND decisive, you can take advantage of.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
Don’t squander those seconds dithering about your base response.

Once you know that you plan to run away, or run towards, you can use that brief, precious moment to act. Act while it will have the most impact and the best chance of success. If you are going to fight, or you are going to escape, jumping on those few immediately valuable seconds increases the chance of you succeeding immeasurably.

So. How do you decide if you should Stay or Go? There are a number of factors that go into the decision, and it is an intensely person one. Don’t be swayed by what someone else has decided, do what makes the most sense for you.

I watched, just now, yet another high ranking police official call for legally armed citizens to carry their firearms as they go about their business and be ready to take action if needed. Strong stuff, that. Your local sheriff or chief of police exhorts you to be ready to swing into action. That’s hard to ignore.

I’m glad to see these officials taking such a strong stand. However, their call to arms may not make sense for everyone. Let’s take a look at some of the factors involved so you can make that basic decision, now.

What’s your family situation? Are you married? Have children or other dependents? Are you the sole earner? How old are your children, peter3youngsters or older teens? Are family members with you at the time of the attack?

If there are people who’s lives depend on your support, then taking a chance of losing your life or becoming severely injured or crippled doesn’t make much sense. If, however, your spouse has a good job and your children are older and on their way toward self sufficiency, AND are behind your decision to put your life at risk to help those around you, then you can consider the fight side of the equation.

Police, fire fighters and other First Responders’ families face this every day. They, however, have a safety net, in survivor benefits and informal social networks. Having chosen to fight, it would be a good idea to make sure your affairs are in good order at all times and that your family is taken care of.  That would include funeral arrangements, life insurance, and developing your own social safety net.

If you are single, the decision is simpler. Your life is your own, to do with as you see fit.

What is your level of training? Reacting to an active shooter situation is the hardest scenario you can deal with. It is a quantum step above handling a home invasion. There maybe more than one attacker, there certainly will be lots of innocent people, folks that are in a panic, running around, screaming, and acting erratically.  The bad guys will be moving, the innocents will be moving, and you’ll be moving. Coming up with a good shooting solution in that situation is fraught with difficulty, the result of a misstep on your part potentially being the death of one of those innocents.

Can you live with that?

It may be that one of your stray rounds killed a bystander, but your actions shut down the shooter before anyone else was hurt. Yes, you killed an innocent, but you saved dozens. Is that a balance sheet you can handle? Can you bear that cost?

Police receive training in this, the most difficult of tactical situations. They learn how best to deal with it.

What training have you had?

More and more shooting schools are adding these types of classes to their curricula. There’s probably one near you. Are you willing to spend the time and money to obtain this training? And being a perishable skill, are you willing to practice on a ongoing basis to keep your skill level up to par?

The answer to that should go into your over all thinking about your decision of whether you should fight or flee.

Where do you live? The prevailing culture surrounding guns, their ownership and use varies widely across the county. Do you live in a area where “he needed killin’!” is an appropriate defense to your use of force? Or are you expected to climb out of a back window of your own home in order to avoid having to defend yourself?

This can differ not only from state to state, but from locale to locale. An action that might be seen as totally acceptable out in the hill country of Texas, could result in a grand jury indictment in a more liberal leaning city like Austin.

If you’re not certain, I highly recommend buying and reading Andrew Branca’s “Law of Self Defense”. Well organized and very readable, it covers the use of lethal force state by state, with complete thoroughness. There are real life examples that put each point into context, making it readily understandable. A few dollars spent on this book can save you tens of thousands if you do the wrong thing.

Realize that your actions will have costs. Those may be financial, if you have to hire an attorney to defend against criminal charges. There is the possibility of being sued, if you hurt an innocent bystander. The costs might be legal, whether it be the just mentioned law suit, or being convicted of a felony. And even if everything goes well, and your quick actions stop the attack before anyone gets hurt, or you prevent the death toll from rising, there will be psychological costs. You will see things you wish you could un-see. There may be any number of psychological ramifications that will be life altering.

The bystanders in the attack don’t deserve your sacrifice. These are total strangers. They will second guess and Monday morning quarter back your actions if you make even the slightest misstep. A larger error will have these same people you saved, hanging you out to dry, throwing you under the bus for any number of reasons.

Many of those people will be anti-gun and don’t think you should own a gun, let alone carry it around in public. They will ascribe to you hero fantasies, calling you a cop wannabe. You want to put your life on the line for these people?

Fleeing, escaping the carnage, seems to make total sense. Other than the fact that you are leaving other people to die, when you might have been able to do something to save them. Will you second guess yourself later, when you are watching the network anchor list the names of those killed? Will you regret not doing something to keep that list shorter?

So far, we’ve made a pretty strong case why you should grab your family and escape the attack quickly, leaving the other folks to fend for themselves. It’s hard to argue with the logic. And I for one, will not second guess your decision.


Those bystanders totally DO deserve your sacrifice. They are members of your community. Fellow human beings. If you are in a position to help them, shouldn’t you? If you are armed and trained and in a position to do some good, how can you NOT take action?

Yes, some of them are anti-gun. Some of them will criticize your actions. The thing is, you aren’t fighting to win their approbation, but to save a fellow human’s life.

Put it in a different context. Would you help another person in different circumstances? If they were drowning, for example? “Well sure! Of course! That’s different, no body is shooting at me.”  True, but  it’s still a dangerous situation that you are putting yourself into. How often does one drowning person turn into two drowning persons?

Humans are hardwired to help each other when one of us is in dire straights. That’s a good thing, a wonderful and transcendent thing.  
History is jam packed with stories of people putting themselves at grave risk to help a fellow human. Often we extend that to other species as well.  Acts like this are what define us. They inspire us. They make us proud, collectively, to be humans.  

There are no poems written about the fellow that ran away. The man who took the safe way. At least not that show him in a favorable light. All cultures celebrate the victor, the person who made a difference. I’m not saying that recognition should be a motivating factor for you to decide to fight if you find yourself in the middle of an attack, but just to illustrate that it is human nature to want to help others in danger.

Law enforcement response to active shooters has evolved over the last twenty years. Back then responding officers cordoned off the area and waited for SWAT. Colombine showed the error of that tactic as children were killed while police officers waited just outside.

The next step was training first responding officers to quickly gather into groups of four and then enter the building, hunting down the assailants,  four officers being considered the minimum to provide some cover for each other.

That still meant that the first officer had to stand around and wait for three more to get to the scene.

Now, we know that the faster the response, the fewer people get hurt. So the latest tactical thinking has the first officer on the scene going in to fight the bad guys.    

Alone. Peter2

Is this dangerous?

You betcha.

But people are dying. It’s already dangerous, for them.

Police, as an institution, have made this commitment. That might be a guide for your own actions.

But what about all the costs you listed above? Yeah, about that. If you decide to take action, to run towards the gunfire, to put your life on the scale, hoping to tip the balance in favor of the good guys, there will be a price to pay. But the most worthwhile things always have a cost. It’s why we place so much value in valor.

Those costs can be mitigated though, and we will examine how in a follow up article in this series. If you do decide to fight, to run to the guns, I want you to have the best chance possible to keep the bill as low as possible.  

Stay or go. Fight or Flee. It’s your decision. An important, life changing one.  Take some time to ponder what I’ve laid out here for you.

Discuss it with those who will be effected by your decision. Talk it over with those who’s council you respect.

Then, make your decision. Make it now.  So you are primed to take immediate action, using those precious few chaotic seconds at the beginning of the attack to the best of your ability.

Now that you’ve made your base decision on how you want to react if you are caught in a mass public attack, you’re ready for the next article in the series which covers the tactics you can use to rapidly and safely exit the scene and escape, getting you and your family to safety. The final article will delineate those tactics you can use to fight, effectively, with the lowest cost possible.

Disciplina Renumenor Fidelis (Training rewards the faithful)

Peter Burlingame

Peter has been teaching and learning and learning and teaching how people can take responsibility for their own safety and security and to get off of government sponsored ‘Security Welfare’ for the past three decades. He’s taught from Alaska to Florida, New York to California and many places in between in this amazing experiment we call America.
Keep up on what he’s doing on www.youtube.com/vigunfighter


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


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