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By Sal Navarro

Being “tactical” is a way of life, not an ethereal concept or happenstance occurrence. And just for the record, it has nothing at all to do with wearing the right cargo pants or boots. Rather, it means having a plan well in advance of a dynamic, critical incident and putting that plan into action if and when it’s needed. In law enforcement circles, this is known as “situational awareness and response” or “critical thinking.” Let’s look at one potential scenario . . .

Imagine you’re at your local mall with your children doing some shopping. It doesn’t matter if it’s an indoor or outdoor mall or what the time of day it may be. It’s the usual mall scene…kids crying, teens walking in packs, people wandering with their eyes on their phones, the typical hustle and bustle.

Suddenly, you hear several loud “pops” to your left about fifteen to twenty yards away from you and your children. You look over in the direction of the noise and you see a man who’s visibly angry, agitated and hostile. He’s yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs that he is going to kill everyone in the mall.

He’s holding a handgun and several people have obviously been shot and are lying on the ground. The mall erupts in screams and panic as everyone begins to run in every direction. The gunman begins to fire indiscriminately into the crowd and more people begin to fall.

What do you do now?

The answer may not be what you do now, but what you could have done in advance to prepare yourself before you even walked into the mall.

Here’s a tactical checklist to consider:

  • First, you have to develop a survival mindset and determine if you’re willing to use a firearm in self-defense before you decide to carry one. If not, you need to consider other alternatives.
  • If you have a concealed weapons carry permit (these days you may not need one), make sure you carry your firearm, extra ammunition, and a small tactical flashlight on a lanyard along with your cell phone wherever you go.
  •  If you don’t have a concealed carry permit, find an experienced firearms instructor who can qualify you to apply for your permit.
  • Know and understand the “use of force” and firearms laws in your area before carrying and using a gun. Make sure it’s legal to carry where you’ll be shopping, eating, etc.
  • At the mall or store, park your car as close to an entry point as possible and make a mental note of where it is.
  • Preferably, park near a source of light if you’ll be there after dark.
  • Scan the parking lot for anything or anyone that looks out of place. This determination is based on your observations and the use of your five senses. Don’t dismiss the hackles going up at the back of your neck, the uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, or that small voice telling you that something is wrong.
  • Does everything appear normal in the lot? Are there strange looking people or cars there? Perhaps someone is wearing unseasonably heavy or long-sleeved clothing or a trench coat in the summer. A car backed into a parking spot by the front door with the engine running, a driver at the wheel wearing a mask or cap, with the passenger door open? Are there emergency vehicles in the parking lot?
  • When entering the mall or a store, approach the entry from an angle so as to see inside to ensure that everything looks normal. Scan the area. Are people running around or are they shopping and moving about as expected?
  • Once in the mall, continue to scan the area to make sure everything looks alright and look in all directions and at various distances so as to take in the “big picture.”
  • Make note of entrance and exit points as you move through the mall.
  • Scout out locations for cover and concealment. Cover means a place that is going to stop bullets from striking you…cement planters, curbs, heavy benches, a brick wall, etc. Concealment is something or someplace that can hide you, but won’t necessarily protect you…a cardboard sale sign, foliage, furniture etc. Use cover and concealment to give yourself time and a tactical advantage in helping you decide if you are going to engage a threat.
  • Don’t depend on law enforcement – or anyone else for that matter – to protect or rescue you and your family during a dynamic incident. In general, law enforcement may have an extended response time and much can happen between the time they are dispatched and the time they actually arrive on the scene.
  • Keep in mind that, depending on your local law enforcement agency’s training, policies and their preparedness for active shooter response, you and your family may have to wait an extended period of time before law enforcement even enters a “hot area.” How many people do you suppose can be seriously hurt or killed by a bad guy with a firearm before police arrive, develop a cogent response, and finally stop the bad guy?

We could expand on this list, but I want to challenge all of us to develop a proactive plan and response options to potential critical dynamic incidents. Doing so can save your life.

Thinking tactically, having an action plan, practicing with your firearm, carrying your gun wherever lawful, and being aware of your surroundings will go a long way toward keeping you and your family safe.

Your family, friends and even strangers are depending on your ability to think clearly during a critical incident. The reality is, though, most people never do this. They operate in condition white.

Remember that those who prepare usually survive. Those who don’t frequently won’t.

The next time you head to the mall or any other place where people gather, leave your flannel pajamas, your old wool slippers, and your favorite hot beverage at home. Instead, take your newly-developed tactical skills with you. They will help make sure you and your family come home safely.


Lt. Salvatore Navarro (Ret.) is a Montana Hunters Education Instructor, an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor and PPCT Certified Defensive Tactics Instructor and Montana State Certified Firearms Instructor. He is the President and CEO of Montana Tactical Firearms Instruction.

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