Active Shooter, Noun ‘ak-tiv ‘shu-ter

The agreed-upon definition of an “active shooter” by US government agencies (including the White House, US Department of Justice, FBI, US Department of Education, US Department of Homeland Security, and Federal Emergency Management Agency) is “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”  In most cases, active shooters use firearms and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.

Active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Because active shooter situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation. In most cases, active shooters use firearms(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims. Individuals have been known to act without firearms such was the case in on April 2014 at Franklin Regional High School where 21 students were stabbed. It’s for this reason that ALICE also uses the terms: Active Killer; Violent Intruder; and Active Assailant.

  • Active Killer

  • Violent Intruder

  • Active Assailant

 DHS Logo

 DHS Logo

Characteristics of an Active Shooter

A number of police and sheriffs department policies list characteristics that are often associated with active shooters.  The policies note that each incident is unique and that no list of active shooter characteristics is comprehensive.  The characteristics cited in various policies include:

  • Active shooters are likely to engage more than one target. They may target particular individuals or they may be intent on killing as many randomly chosen people as possible. Active Shooters often go to location with high concentrations of people, such as schools, theaters, shopping center, or other places of business.

  • Active shooters’ intentions is usually an expression of hatred or rage, rather than financial gain or motives associated with other types of crimes. Thus, police tactics of containment and negotiation may be an inadequate response to and active shooter.

  • Active shooters often have made detailed plans for the attack. In many cases, they are better armed that the police. They usually have some familiarity with the chosen location.

  • Active shooters often, but not always, are suicidal. Escape from the police is usually not a priority of an active shooter. Most active shooters have not attempted to hide their identity.

  • In some situations, active shooters choose a location for a tactical advantage.

Law Enforcement & Active Shooters

The term, “active shooter” is used by law enforcement to describe a situation in which a shooing is in progress and an aspect of the crime may affect the protocols used in responding to and reacting at the scene of the incident. Unlike defined crime, such as a murder or mass killing, the active aspect inherently implies that both law enforcement personnel and citizens have the potential to affect the outcome of the event based upon their responses.

DHS Logo