Handling the San Francisco Train Shooting

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By now, you’ve probably heard about the murder that took place on a San Francisco commuter train. The gunman didn’t quickly pull out his gun and shoot someone… instead, he pulled out his gun multiple times and even used it to wipe his nose before shooting someone.

However, not a single person on the train noticed him pulling out the gun because everyone was absorbed in their cell phones. As the District Attorney stated, “These people are in very close proximity with him, and nobody sees this… They’re just so engrossed, texting and reading and whatnot. They’re completely oblivious of their surroundings.”

I’m not going to go into a lecture about situational awareness because if you’ve ever trained with me you know how important it is, and you’re aware of the color code. What I do want to share with you today is how you should react if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. In fact, I got the following question (below) from a gentleman named Phil H. that fits perfectly with what I want to share with you.

Phil H. wrote to me regarding the train shooting, “I’m not going to comment on the obvious issue of awareness, but my question is how should a CCW holder react to a situation like that? It was a crowded environment. Making the other passengers aware could spark a panic. Shooting the gunman before he has shot his weapon doesn’t seem like a good option. Nor does doing nothing and just being a good witness. But with the crowded environment, taking any action could endanger a lot of lives. So what is the best response to a gun threat in a crowded environment?”

In this specific instance of being on the train, drawing and shooting is definitely not the way to go. It’s too crowded and people are packed into each other like sardines. Also, I wouldn’t just sit there and be a good witness. Obviously, a person can choose to do what they wish, but if the gunman shoots someone and you just stand there and watch… you might be next. If I found myself in that situation I believe the best option is to go hands-on.

The gunman in this case gave a world of opportunity for people to stop him, he was begging for attention and was almost saying “please notice me” when he pulled out the gun multiple times before actually using it. There was plenty of time for a passenger close to him or even several feet away to go hands-on and disarm him.

There are several different techniques for disarming a person with a gun and I know that police academies teach one way, the martial arts teach another, and federal agencies teach another. However, the method I like is what the Secret Service refers to as “Grab, Squeeze, Break, Pull.”

All of the actions in this disarming method happen almost instantaneously but here’s how it breaks down. You grab the gun and squeeze (you are squeezing the person’s hand on the gun, so your hand is on top of theirs wrapped around the gun.) As soon as you grab and squeeze you chop down on their arm to make it bend at the elbow and you pull forward throwing them forward and off balance to the ground where you then remove the gun.

Again, this is just one method of disarming a person with a gun and you should find what works best for you. But in a crowded situation like a train or bus, going hands-on and disarming the threat is often the best solution.

Also, if you ever go hands-on, you don’t have to create a panic or start screaming. In the train situation, as soon as someone saw the gun they could have quickly and silently made their way to the killer and brought him down without anyone getting scared and getting in their way in the panic.

Of course, I do recommend that you take some self-defense training and learn how to go hands on so you know how to properly do it should the time ever arise.

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  • JP

    This has to be the dumbest, most irrational advice I have ever heard. Unless you train daily, the the idea of a person with simple self defense training being capable of disarming a person is ridiculous. They would be lucky to control the muzzle direction, let also remove the weapon from them. All you would do is escalate the situation and put everyone, and mostly yourself in danger.

    I would assess the situation, move to a position where i had a tactical advantage on the gun brandishing moron (flank, concealment, or cover) and then react. The second that gun is pointing at anyone or anything it shouldn’t, I’m drawing and firing. Trying to be Jason Bourne is the quickest way to end up dead.

    • Dave

      JP I agree. I would even go further and get on the horn with 911 and tell em what you got while the bus is still moving. Get the cops rolling to your location ASAP. I don’t like the hands on approach either unless you train to take weapons away on a regular basis. Its a tragedy what happened and hopefully we can learn from it to make sure it doesn’t ever happen again.

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    • borg

      A knife through the windpipe would be the best course of action

      • borg

        or breaking his nick using acquired training.

      • blogengeezer

        ‘A Knife’ is in many states, considered a ‘concealed Weapon’ and illegal to carry. Acceptance of that risk, just as carrying a concealable firearm, is paramount to personal survival in many instances. Today’s litigious USA is 180 degrees from a previous generation. As mentioned previously, in SF You would become the attacker and deemed a part of the problem, if you did anything in aggression. Remember ‘Deep Pockets’ accesses blame (financial) on anyone of substance involved.

        The time honored tradition of clandestine resort, functions well in the real world scenarios. Do what is necessary and within your personal capabilities, to drain the actor’s gene pool. Draw no attention and quickly move on, away from the ‘draining’. Avoid Any accolades or acknowledgement.

        Video monitors are the problem in the world we now live within. Just leaving the ‘chips to fall’, is the safest recourse today (Herd Mentality, “So long as it’s not happening to me”). Reference the infamous ‘Kitty Genovese’ accepted social structure? It still is in effect. In other wards.. be prepared to accept the fact that You are all on your own.. society will abandon and as noted in many cases after the witnessed/recorded incident, eventually Attack You.

    • rollersen1

      I somewhat agree with JP and also Jason. Being that the location was on a train in San Francisco, it was probably riddled with irrational gun control freaks. The mere sight of a gun would have sent them running in all directions like scared sheep. If the guy in question was 100 lbs soaking wet I may have tried to disarm him. On the other hand, if he looked formidable I may have done what JP recommended. Either way, in SF the lawful citizen trying to do good would probably get arrested!

  • yikesarama

    JP is 100% correct. This is not the first time that Jason Hanson has asked us to move from being lawful carry permit holders to becoming like (or acting as though we were) sworn law enforcement officers.

  • The cisco kid

    WHO? says the gunman took out his gun multiple times before shooting?!?! That person obviously should have warned someone? duuuuuuuuuh!?!?

    • Peter Schmidt

      No one seen him pointing the gun at people. The video camera on the train is the reason they know what he did. People where to distracted with their texting and crap to notice.

      • Strange1

        “People where to distracted with their texting and crap to notice.” or doing their best not to make eye contact in fear it might be construed as aggression…

  • IHateLibs

    aka ,, BRAINLESS LIB/DEM SHEEPLE

  • cal10pilot

    Without currest training, I don’t believe I would go into hand to hand combat with someone with a firearm. It would also depend on the situation, because if the gunman was a whimp, and tiny in size, I might try your suggestion….. but if we are of equal size, and you have no idea if the suspect is on drugs or what kind of drugs…. PCP being the worst…and impossible to over power at ANY size…. I think the case can be made that you were in fear of your life, so you discharged your weapon.
    I wouldn’t second guess anyones decision.

  • gwp1948

    I think some of you need to get into your heads that you need more options than a firearm. I try to carry at least one less lethal or non-lethal option when I have my firearm and when I don’t. Hand-to-hand is also an option, but I am getting old enough that I prefer not to work that hard if I don’t have to. What are the odds of a civilian in CA having a firearm? If you travel to CA the odds are pretty great that you won’t be able to carry so what are you going to do, die because you don’t have your gun?

    • JP

      In a survival situation you use the tool that best guarantees you stay alive. Jason assumed you were carrying in the above situation. But without a firearm, I agree you do whatever you can to disarm/disable the aggressor or get the f*ck out of there as quick as you can. If your girlfriend’s stiletto is your best option, you use that. Just make sure you promise to buy her a new pair.

  • Matt Schlueter

    While advocating someone go hands on in this situation may not be advisable for all CCW holders, I do agree if one had been aware of the situation they should have taken some type of action. That said what type of action they could have taken if they had been aware of the situation would have been a personal choice, and should be with-in that persons abilities.

    When deciding what type of action to take they would need to consider several factors:

    Does the perpetrator have the Ability to cause death or great bodily injury?

    Does the perpetrator have the Opportunity to use his ability to cause death or great bodily injury?

    Once the perpetrator has the Ability and Opportunity, does he then make substantial steps towards
    employing them, and actually place someone in Jeopardy of experiencing death or great bodily injury?

    Special care should be taken when using deadly force on juveniles, mentally deranged people, and when innocent bystanders are in the area.

    People who are concerned about their personal safety should attend some type of personal protection training, as part of implementing their own personal safety plans.

  • sir swiftus funkellwerk

    ONLY PEOPLE from war torn countries would be aware of such a thing. The average American citizen isn’t gonna be aware of something like this NO MATTER how much training they’ve had…..

    • Thomas Connolly, jr

      What?!?

  • james lagnese

    The instructions given are a little vague. Most people are right handed. It sounds like the author is saying grab the gun/hand with one’s left hand, which for most people is their weak hand. This is disadvantage one. Depending on the perp, not everyone can pull this off. I can tell you that as someone that studied aikido, that some people don’t know how much force is enough and with someone that is somewhat insensitive to force and techniques, you might get a laugh. The one thing you don’t want to do is get in the plane of the gun, meaning having it’s muzzle crossing your path. This could happen in a congested train with not much room to move. In the end, it all depends on what my options are.

    This really speaks to the rectal-cranial inversion that has been visited upon us by the millennial generation. Digital all the time and multitasking all the time. I guess I am old school.

  • William White

    Guys you do need to train a bit but if you know how a gun works disarming can be very safe
    Revolver simply grabbing the revolver at the cylinder with a tight squeeze a revolver can not be fired and I do not care who is trying to pull the trigger you have locked the gun up then it is a matter of twisting it away if done quickly the person holding the gun can not react fast enough to keep the gun.
    Pistol even cocked grabbing the slide and pushing back toward the holder you push it out of battery even if the hammer drops it will not go off as it is out of battery then push barrel up and twist away they still can not react fast enough But one you have to have the Balls to do it and it is not that hard then you the ccw has the gun and can defend every one with it.
    Or well Just shoot the bastered both takes guts and the balls too. Do what you think is safest for all concerned. or do nothing and be like the rest of the sheep.
    I for one will be one who does some thing what I can not tell you as you have to be there and until I am and have done it then I can tell you which I choose but I have no problem doing either.

  • hagbard45

    I’d like to hear from several named (if possible) eyewitnesses on the train — can we have those interviews before we come to conclusions. The City and County of San Francisco’s government has knowingly disarmed the law-abiding by making concealed carry very difficult, and these are the foreseeable consequences! Blame or fire the city council!

  • Thomas Connolly, jr

    I am not sure which is more disturbing, the article or the comments below. Jason has used this story to bring about additional awareness regarding 1. situational awareness, 2. NOT to open fire in this instance, and 3. to do SOMETHING. For the “We’re not the cops/Call the cops” set, yes you could do that; however on a moving train how do you expect them to respond? Same for the “Get the hell out of there” group, although you could go to another car you may have also been shot trying. It seems to me that, although I am not a LEO I am still a citizen. As such, I am duty bound (my own feelings, not to be enforced on others) to help where and when I can. In this case, I would have done something to keep this person from discharging a weapon in a confined area where he can kill and injure. That does call for me to do additional training, exercise, and carrying a few weapons (lethal and nonlethal) at all times. I have accepted that responsibility, which is why I subscribe to Jason’s work. The amount of disdain for his article is surprising in that, if you don’t agree what are you doing here?

    Just my two cents, which is as useless as the actual $0.02. Thought I would try though. Peace y’all.

  • Chris

    What if the guy with the gun turns out to be just another CCW holder exercising his 2nd Amendment rights? Technically, up until the split second he pulls the trigger, he’s just another law abiding citizen, right?
    The fact is, no matter how well armed you are, in some situations, you’re going to be at risk.

    • aot2002

      Wrong if you brandish a weapon it’s against the law. Any brandishing of a weapon is considered a threat period.

  • sportsman69

    No one knows how they will react in a life or death situation, unless and until they find themselves faced with one!
    It’s all well and good, with the advantage of hindsight, to say what would and should have been the proper action to take in such a situation.
    Training is always a good idea, for almost any scenario in life, but even training doesn’t insure how one will react when the fear kicks in and the adrenaline starts flowing.
    Not even military training insures the military’s desired reactions, but its hard to argue that training is a negative.
    The reality we are faced with is that most CCW holders have minimal firearm training, not to mention little to no personal defense training.
    So what are we really discussing here?
    THE HOPE that if faced with a life or death situation, our awareness, any training we have had and our reaction that actually occurs, is both measured and effective.

  • MB670

    In a close quarters situation on a subway car packed like sardines, unless I was next to the perp I would not fire. In this case being in SF, no one but an LEO would be packing. But had it been somewhere else, if the situation presented itself I’d attempt to shoot at an upward angle (30 degrees) at any point of circumference to the lower thoracic cavity.
    Not packing I’d attempt a knifing behind the ear, throat, gut, etc…but then again I’ve had training most havent.
    As a last resort would I try what is trained by NYPD. And that is to either grab the slide and push forward, putting it out of battery. Then gripping the gun while the finger is on trigger, snap the gun vertically 180* to break the finger then riptide gun away.
    These are all extremely situational decisions and multiple factors are at play.
    The biggest lesson learned though as I’ll reiterate, is being in condition yellow as much as possible.
    My lesson came in an elevator one late night 2 am, in NYC where I was fortunate to carry. With my wife texting, a man got on holding a 12″ or so screwdriver. I don’t know what his intentions were, if he wanted to mug us or break into apartments, but I looked straight at him in the eyes…once we connected I lifted my shirt hem revealing the butt end of my Glock. He couldn’t press the button for the next floor fast enough.
    After he exited, my heart was pounding so hard I thought my wife would hear it. I took some deep breaths and my wife asked what was wrong? She was oblivious to everything that transpired…

  • JHinSD

    Interestingly, in Israel, the public have been encouraged to swarm ‘gunmen’ instead of running away. As a tactic, perhaps counter-intuitive, but it seems to have worked. Arab terrorists in Israel have pretty much stopped using gunfire as a means of mass killing because they know they won’t likely have the backs of fleeing citizens to target.

    Tough to flee from a moving BART train once the perp has decided to go active. And to “take a tactical position, assess, draw and fire?” Well, you’d better have a damn good attorney on speed dial.

  • carynflo

    i am going to tell a story that happened during the Travelling in the train. one shooter searching person after 10 find out and shoot him in front of Public. no one helped him. After one hours police van enter in the station and put dead body and go to the hospital. I know what will result will come.

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