Content Warning for me ranting about Active Shooter training, Guns in the US, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings, Activer Shooter situations, and “Active Assailant” training.
I’m going to be clear: I’m pissed as hell after a thing came up with work and I went a full rant about this stuff. I get it if that’s not something you’re interested in, something you’re already traumatized by, or just want to (ENTIRELY UNDERSTANDABLY) avoid these topics creeping into more of your life. There’s no harm in leaving now. You don’t have to click to expand and read about this stuff. I needed to write about it, though, since it has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and I’m so angry that even the stuff created specifically to prepare people for these scenarios tries to be coy about it. The US has a problem and it is only getting worse.
I received an email today about “Active Assailant” training at work. Not gonna lie, it kinda ruined my day. Not that it really changed anything about my life, of course. After living in the US for almost thirty-one years, I’m genuinely pretty prepared for an “active assailant” to show up in my life on any given day. I don’t personally need the training, thanks to my preparation-forward anxiety reduction exercises, my lifelong anxiety disorders, the legal requirements for employers to have their safety procedures accessibly to their employees, and having been a student in the US after the year 2000. It’s a standard part of our education now, moreso than Home Ec, art, or learning how to file our taxes, which is infuriating on its own. Not to mention my personal experience dealing with a variety of the possible interpretations of the “active assailant” euphemism.
I’ve long since run the mental calculations about my workplace and what to do if an “assailant” appears without warning. I know exactly how screwed I am based on the various points of entry and how far away I am from the first attack. The building I work in was designed for aesthetics, storage, and R&D work, in that order, so every office has huge glass doors, it’s almost impossible to break sightlines from within a single lab area, and it’s impossible to see anything that isn’t in your lab area. Really bad design aside from the lab-to-lab isolation, at least in terms of “hardening” a place against attack.
All of this stuff is a normal part of my life. I think about it at least once a week, which is about as long as I can go without seeing news about people being murdered in an act of domestic terrorism by shitlords with guns. What has pissed me off, ruined my day, and made me angry enough to rant about it on my blog is that this entire training was about active shooter situations and never once referenced guns or used the word “shooter” in any of the documentation it shared other than the video. The whole pile of handouts were written as if knife violence, fist-fights, and airborn heavy objects were the main risks that would crop up if violence visited your workplace. If they can avoid it at all, they avoid referencing the type of violence involved, instead opting for mealy-mouthed verbiage that implies that “workplace violence” (once again, a piss-poor attempt to avoid using the word “shooter” while talking about mass shooting events) is just as much an international issue as sexual harrassment in the workplace rather than an almost uniquely US experience.
It was like reading a police statement after an officer has shot someone or when the media reports on it. It is so belabored in an effort to avoid stating the truth that it lost all relation to the language people use in their daily lives. It’s worse at presenting the issues at hand than my parents were when they gave me “The Talk” and they’re both horrible conservative catholics who believe in abstinence as the only form of birth control and that I would go to hell unless I told a priest every time I had a thought about sex or sexuality in general before eating a small wafer of bread-adjacent material. I honestly never imagined anyone could present an idea worse than my parents did when they tried to teach me about reproductive health and sex, but today I learned differently. Which was the only thing I learned from these documents that are being shared widely at my place of employment.
Accompanying these mealy-mouthed text aids that will probably be posted on breakroom bulletin boards (and might be already. I don’t know since I avoid places were other employees gather given the on-going pandemic and lack of basic safety precautions in my workplace) is a video I’m supposed to watch. It is forty-five minutes of a recorded presentation by outreach or education officers from county law enforcement and it not only makes it one hundred percent clear that this is about guns and mass shooting events, but even references one that happened nearby only a few years back. We were told that we could opt out of this training if we had a good reason to do so, and while I suppose I have one, I’m so mad about this I made myself sit through it so I could go into my team’s upcoming discussion fully prepared for whatever shit comes up. I, of course, took my time and safeguarded my mental health to the best of my ability, taking the video in small chunks with long breaks and a few helpful mental exercises I learned in therapy. After all, it is important to stay up to date on whatever bullshit the cops are putting out so I can make correct decisions in an emergency and have a correct assesment of how useless the cops are going to be in any active shooter situations.
So much of the training that goes into these things for kids and teens is about getting out, staying out of the way (via hiding or barricading), or being difficult enough to kill that the shooter runs out of ammo more quickly or gets delayed long enough for someone to stop them. Or, as seems to happen fairly often outside of school shootings, for them to either surrender or end their own rampage. The trainings for adults and workplaces aren’t much different, though it is a bit more difficult to see between the lines that they expect a confrontation to go poorly for the person without a gun. After all, they talk about stategizing with your coworkers, fighting only as a last resort, and that the person with a gun probably isn’t a trained commando of any kind so they’re susceptible to distraction, misdirection, and all the usual foibles of humans in intense situations without the training to persevere.
They, of course, conveniently ignore the fact that all the people supposed to take advantage of these human weaknesses are also humans with the same weaknesses. A single hour-long presentation on the topic of a person with a gun entering your workplace with murder on their mind isn’t going to help you get over the fear and flinch responses to violence and death. After all, we’ve all seen the stories of how one person managed to bring down a guy with a gun, sometimes before he could even begin a rampage, but no one really comments on how many of the people in mass-casualty shootings were probably trying to stop the gunman when their lives were taken.
The common refrain of these trainings is to spend time ideating about scenarios in which a guy with a gun enters your workplace and starts shooting. They mention coming up with multiple plans, considering all your options, memorizing important pieces of information so they’re second nature in a crisis, and running through scenarios in which all of your default options aren’t accessible. The idea is to push you to act so that you at least are doing something and that if everyone is doing something, chances are good that someone is doing the right thing. It isn’t lost on me that this is basically prescribed anxiety. After all, that’s what anxiety pushes you to do. Run through various scenarios in preparation for unlikely but extermely bad events. Which is incredibly frustrating for me since I’ve spent so much of my adult life trying to get control of this anxiety and fear that protected me as a child, ultimately failing because I can’t deny the fact that living in the US means it might save my life again.
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In the week between originally writing this an editing it the day before it is posted, they’ve changed some of the verbiage. None of the documents changed, of course, that would require someone to do the work on the PDFs, multiple rounds of approval between HR and whatever law enforcement adjacent agency is profiting from my employer’s desire to prepare its employees, but the internal page hosting the documents and video changed. It now uses the word “shooter” but its clearly a “find and replace” style hack job because most of the sentences sound like a bad text generator wrote them now. I am still incredibly angry, six days later, but I still don’t know what I can do about it. I did my best to rip away the euphemisms my coworkers tried to hide behind them during our meeting about this and I donate to as many good anti-gun organizations as I can afford to, so there’s really not much more I can do on my own. I sure wish there was. I’d rather see every gun disappear than win the lottery and you can bet your ass if I had only one wish it would be to eliminate all tools of war. I’m just so mad that this problem has grown as bad as it has. Not just prevalent guns (and more prevalent with every passing year and these death cult republicans worship their tools of death), but an entire industry profiting off this problem that refuses to face it properly. What the actual fuck.