I've seen a lot of comment among more gung-ho denizens of the Internet after the three mass shooting incidents last week. It can be summed up as "Always carry your gun, and if someone starts shooting, shoot back!"
Shooting back is not always a good idea. It may be one's only option, if worse comes to worst; but that still doesn't necessarily make it a good one.
Let's start by examining a scenario like the Walmart shooting in El Paso. Around where I live, I can be pretty sure that there will be several persons in our local Walmart branches who have concealed weapons permits, and are armed. I'll be one of them, of course. Now, Joe Scumbag walks in the front door and starts shooting. We're scattered throughout the store, so most of us won't know exactly who's shooting and from what position. We also don't know each other. We can hear the shots, we can hear people screaming in panic, we can see them running . . . but where's the shooter?
Let's assume that I, nearest the shooter, see what's going on, draw my weapon, and neutralize him. At the same time, other concealed weapons holders are drawing their weapons and moving towards the threat. They come around the ends of shelving racks, or down the aisle, or whatever, and they see me pointing a gun at a man on the ground - perhaps still shooting at him. They can't necessarily see his gun, and they don't know he's the bad guy. All they see is a man with a gun - me. What's their reaction likely to be? You guessed it. At least some of them may light me up without waiting to ask questions.
I'm not saying you shouldn't stop a threat if it materializes. That may be a plain and simple necessity, to save your life or the lives of others near you. However, if you take action, you may be seen - by people nearby, and by responding cops - as part of the problem, simply because you have a gun in your hand. You'd better plan on putting it down at once, as soon as the threat is past, and standing very still, with your hands in plain view, until responding officers have secured the scene and your firearm. Obey every order they give, and don't try to explain until they give you time to do so. If you don't, you may end up as yet another victim.
(EDITED TO ADD: Precisely that happened to Emantic Fitzgerald “EJ” Bradford Jr. at a shopping mall in Alabama in 2017. Go read the details for yourself. He was shot and killed by a police officer as he turned back to aid a victim of a shooting, with his legally carried personal firearm in his hand.)
If you're not in the immediate vicinity of the shooter, and you have your family with you, then as a private citizen, your primary responsibility is to them, not to public safety. You should be heading for the nearest exit with them - or, if that would take you closer to the danger area, head the other way, looking for an emergency exit, or better cover, or a place where you can put yourself between them and danger and cover any avenue(s) of approach for the bad guy. If you try to play the hero, even if you succeed, the odds of you becoming a casualty are not small - particularly if you have a small, concealable handgun against the shooter's semi-auto rifle or shotgun. What will your family think of your heroics then?
It's always a good idea to maintain situational awareness. Do you know where the emergency exits, loading dock, and rear doors are to the supermarket(s) where you most frequently shop? If not, why not? Learn their location now, and keep it in mind. In the stress and panic of an emergency situation, you won't have time to look for them. If trouble strikes, head for them right away, herding your family ahead of you, where you can see them and make sure they don't stray. Don't trust them to follow you. In a situation like that, it's too easy to get separated.
If you have small children with you, that's going to make it very difficult to deploy a handgun. They'll scream, and cling, and demand attention, just at the moment when you can't afford to give it to them. It'll almost always be better to get them out of danger, and concentrate on that mission, rather than try to fight around, or over, or through them.
However, don't let those factors deter you from carrying a gun. I almost never leave the house without a gun on my person, and following last weekend's events, I've resolved to cut out the "almost never". I want to be armed whenever and wherever I go, except where legally forbidden, so that if Joe Scumbag decides to look for targets there, I can give him an incentive to stop. Fortunately, I live in a state and a city where that's entirely legal, and where many of my fellow residents do likewise. If it's legally possible for you to do the same, I most strongly recommend it to you. If it's not legal where you live . . . well, I can't encourage you to break the law. I can only remind you of the old saying, "It's better to be judged by twelve than carried by six".
Finally, I repeat the sage advice of John Farnam, which we've seen in these pages on several occasions. It's as true today as it ever was.
The best way to handle any potentially injurious encounter is: Don’t be there. Arrange to be somewhere else. Don’t go to stupid places. Don’t associate with stupid people. Don’t do stupid things. This is the advice I give to all students of defensive firearms. Winning a gunfight, or any other potentially injurious encounter, is financially and emotionally burdensome. The aftermath will become your full-time job for weeks or months afterward, and you will quickly grow weary of writing checks to lawyer(s). It is, of course, better than being dead or suffering a permanently disfiguring or disabling injury, but the “penalty” for successfully fighting for your life is still formidable.
Crowds of any kind, particularly those with an agenda, such as political rallies, demonstrations, picket lines, etc are good examples of “stupid places.” Any crowd with a high collective energy level harbors potential catastrophe. To a lesser degree, bank buildings, hospital emergency rooms, airports, government buildings, and bars (particularly crowded ones) fall into the same category. All should be avoided. When they can’t be avoided, we should make it a practice to spend only the minimum time necessary there and then quickly get out.
“A superior gunman is best defined as one who uses his superior judgment in order to keep himself out of situations that would require the use of his superior skills.”
I couldn't agree more. As for supermarkets and the like, see the last line of the second paragraph cited. "Spend only the minimum time necessary there and then quickly get out." That could save your life.