Skills checklist to respond to a movie shooter

| July 27, 2015 | 5 Comments

Last Thursday, a man stood up and started shooting people in a movie theater. This is not the first time a shooting has happened in a movie theater, and may not be the last.

Here’s a list of skills and mindset that may be necessary to stop an active shooter in a movie theater. Please add any suggestions in the comments.


Know where the exits are for the theater. There will be at least two, if not more.

Have an idea where you want to sit in order to avoid being an initial victim so you may respond and/or escape.

Have a plan with your loved ones about what to do during an active shooting situation. You may want to have different responses based on who is with you. For example, The She-Shepherd and I have different responses when we are alone versus watching a movie with her children.

Discuss a rally point (or several) if applicable. The She-Shepherd’s children know to rally at the car and stay low next to the wheels in case we get separated during an active shooter situation.

Have a gun. Don’t go to places that will actively prohibit you from having a weapon.

Understand the mindsets of different active shooters. I recommend reading Killing the Active Shooter by Gabe Suarez and Facing the Active Shooter by CR Williams. The Louisiana attack mimics the typical response of mentally disturbed shooters: he shot himself when he encountered any armed resistance. Know the difference between this mindset and those of terrorists.


Have a protocol on how you are going to engage an active shooter. I do not intend to challenge someone who is already shooting. Your training may encourage you to challenge, never challenge, or sometimes challenge. Have a plan ahead of time.

Movie theaters are not as dark as you think. I strongly encourage you to take low-light gunfighting classes.

Know how to clear malfunctions and reload in low-light conditions.

Understand that you may need to use melee weapons and/or grappling skills if the attacker is close to you. Have at least a rudimentary grasp of 0 – 5′ fighting, and I strongly encourage you to take the Shivworks ECQC class.

Know how to deal with crowds during a fight, especially in dealing with people of unknown intent. You may be grabbed / confronted by scared people trying to get by. They may not be a threat, but you need to know how to retain your firearm and get it back on target without putting people at risk.

Engage in force on force training that simulates a movie theater and/or other crowded, low-light conditions.


Have a post-fight checklist. Mine is something like this: identify any other immediate threats, reload if feasible, check myself for injury, check my party for injury, check others for injury. The situation may dictate a change in plans.

Gunshot wound trauma care is something everyone should know, regardless if you carry a gun or not.

Understand there may be other shooters / attackers elsewhere in the theater. Be careful about running out of the exits.

Be prepared to deal with law enforcement officers. I highly recommend you read CR Williams’s book Facing the Active Shooter book on techniques in reducing your chances of being shot by responding LEO.

Equipment list

Handgun with a high capacity magazine if possible.

Spare high capacity magazine.

A small, fixed blade knife carried along your body centerline. This knife should be accessible via either hand.

Gunshot wound trauma kit, with a BFM kit at the bare fucking minimum.

A quality holster that will allow you quickly and safely reholster. You may need to put your firearm away to deal with a gunshot victim(s), including yourself. I do not recommend “one-way” holsters that are made out of soft material that collapse after the draw.

At least one flashlight that you function test at least once a month.

Consider a bag-carried weapon that allows you to engage multiple targets at longer distances with more firepower. A situation might be a lone kook like in Louisiana, or you may be in the middle of a Westgate Mall situation.


I am a fight focused student. I am not a personal safety instructor nor a lawyer. This post is not tactical or legal advice. Please get training from professional personal safety instructors, and establish a relationship with a lawyer who specializes in self-defense shooting situations. You may have different rules of engagement and plans based on your personal capabilities, responsibilities, and environment.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.

5 Comments on "Skills checklist to respond to a movie shooter"

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  1. kyliewyotie says:

    I went to a see a movie over the weekend, and had many of these very thoughts.

    Do you bring a bag with you to the movies? I didn’t, I felt like I would stick out to much with a bag. Like i was sneaking in snacks or something.

    I wonder what others thoughts on that are.

    • Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd says:

      I do! I am also concerned about bag checks, more so from the theater thinking I am going to cam the movie for piracy purposes.

      I sometimes take smaller bags / PDWs, but in general I haven’t had any problems yet.

      I also suggest carrying a trauma kit in the same bag, so you can honestly reply “medical supplies” if you are asked what is in the bag.

      This is a good idea for a future post.

      • Jeremy J says:

        The more the need for a bag, the more the likelyhood they will not allow them. At this point I feel a handgun is sufficient piece of mind for myself. However, that is totally up to the individual…it’s their life after all. I may change my mind in the future as to needing more firepower…I hope that does not happen!

        • kyliewyotie says:

          Thanks for the replies. I choose to just take my med kit, which I wear around my ankle, a light, and knife, and a pistol with my rmr. I have made a real focus on longer range shooting with my pistol which helps hedge the need for the bag.

          I do feel weird in movies, large box stores etc. To and from work, walking arrived town etc I don’t feel as thou I stick out. Even doing my best to be discreet about my gear, I still worry about people thinking I’m stealing etc. And don’t want the extra attention. Where my bag goes with me and where it doesn’t is something I struggle with.

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