A Shooter’s Day at the Mall

By Bryan Mennie

Hey, we all love shooting, after all we wouldn’t be reading this blog if we didn’t. In an ideal world most if not all of our weekend would consist of some firearm related activity. Being at the range, at a match, out hunting, cleaning our firearm, or reloading would fill our downtime. Yet down here in this place I like to call reality we always have to battle our wants and wishes with those of our families, our need to accomplish other tasks and in general ensure this balance in life.

Balance is after all the most important element of our shooting development and our preparedness. Our training in and of itself should not be focused only on shooting or even firearm manipulation. Fitness, combatives, knowledge of the law, legal process, security awareness, threat analysis and a plethora of other subjects should enjoy equal primacy within a well-balanced, strong and prepared mind.

So this issue I would like to unpack one of these concepts, this is the contextual analysis of the environment that you are in and pre-incident preparation steps you can exercise every single time you move through the physical space integral to all aspects of your life.

That’s a fairly complex manner of saying that you can use those shopping trips to the mall to continue your training even whilst you are spending that much needed time with your family or just getting the groceries.

Before we delve into the ‘how’ part of this, indulge me whilst I stop at the ‘why’ sign. I do a lot of security awareness training for executives and executive staff members. One of the key points that I always make during those training sessions is how effective pre incident procedural development is and how analogous it is to developing good business concepts or patterns. Just as we use modelling and contingencies to provide us breathing space and allow for immediate actions to business disruptive events, so we use mental preparation and environmental analysis to ensure that if something bad suddenly happens whilst we are out living life, our brain doesn’t get stuck in a ‘WTF now loop’.

The hard truth is, as long as we keep making decisions and accomplishing tasks, the more we are developing the situation, then the more survivable we making ourselves. At the risk of sounding like a cliché generator here, it is neither the person who shoots first, nor the person who thinks first who wins the fight. It is the person who thinks and shoots the best; first, that wins the fight.

OK, I could quite literally fill pages on the psychology of critical incident response but for the sake of brevity and to spare column inches let us agree that the ‘why’ part has been covered. So onwards to the ‘how’ part as we go back to our scenario.

Here you and your wife are, a typical Saturday morning and you are at a fairly typical suburban shopping mall. I am no mall rat and certainly not one who is drawn to environments with large amounts of people in them. However as I mentioned when we started out, sometimes you have to do what others want you to do. So back to walking down the hallowed halls of consumer madness, all is not lost and you are actually presented with a unique training opportunity. Firstly it is a great test opportunity for your daily carry. For the sake of this article let us not delve off into the insanity of those little no gun stickers at some shopping malls nor the absurdity of the security theatre behind it – indeed another topic upon which I can, and indeed have filled reams.  Where was I? Of course, daily carry. This is a great opportunity to test the comfort levels, concealability and practicality in how and what you carry or at least should be carrying every day. So go through that check list: firearm, spare mag, phone, knife, impact device, med kit? Do you have it all, are you able to spend the entire day on your feet with it, carrying bags, herding kids, keeping up with the significant other without your pants falling off? Can you add all of that to everything else you need to carry; wallet, nappy bag, handbag etc? Before you leave home, indulge in an old soldiers trick, do a jump test before you walk out the door? It is simple, just jump in place a few times. What rattles, what sticks out and what stays put – you will find out what chafes at the end of the day?  Why is that important and what does that have to do with environmental analysis? Simple it’s a variable that you own. Control that which you can is an important element to being able to move through your environment smoothly, also chafing thighs, sagging pants and being uncomfortable detract from your ability to be aware of all that is going on around you.

Think about the image you project, I am a former police officer and security contractor, I have lots of clothing which is branded as being supportive of law enforcement  and soldiers, I don’t wear it specifically for the messaging but rather because that is what I feel comfortable in. I am also aware though that dressing in that manner could influence how I am viewed especially if a critical incident were to take place. I don’t let that change me but I am aware of that and I need to have a plan for if that situation does become intrusive. Although I am sure that the main image I portray is that of dutiful husband or frazzled father trying to herd my energetic kids.

Ok that’s done, now a mental jump back to our shopping trip and lets find some parking, get there earlier if you can and try and get the parking spot most convenient to the last shop you will be at and being able to leave as smoothly as possible. Reverse in, parking is always about setting you up to leave easily not about arriving conveniently. Take a second to look at the route from your spot to the mall entrance, make sure it will be easy to find for everyone in your party including kiddies. Involve them by asking them to help your remember any parking bay number. If the little ones are still fairly young and cannot remember your numbers then make sure that they have your cellular phone details on them, clothes label’s, arm tags or koki on the arm.  Does that same route force you into a plethora of blind spots? Where would divert to if you came back down and you didn’t like the look of the group of people standing near your car?

OK so now into the mall you go, on your way in, grab a trolley if you can. It actually becomes a very useful device for keeping those younger kiddies in check, carrying that EDC bag or using as a crowd management device. Yes crowd management device, that trolley becomes a very socially acceptable method of owning space and keeping a physical barrier between you and others.

Take a deep breath as you enter or better go and grab a cup of coffee or tea first. It is not so much the nourishment you seek but rather the opportunity to acclimatize to this different environment and to allow you to become familiar with the lay out. If it is a regular haunt then you still want to do this. Look for things that have changed since your last visit. Look out for the exits and maintenance passageways. The key element here is to ask yourself; what would I do if an armed robbery happened right now! The key answer is of course is being able to safely and quickly get yourself and your family away from the action, so you want to understand how the geography is going to facilitate that.

Also whilst you are having that tasty beverage and examining the layout of the mall, not architecture, what would stop bullets and what just looks pretty. Work out how you would get to the bullet stoppings parts as quickly as possible if something happened right now. Make sure that you have key numbers for the mall, security office etc. Ever lose a child in a shopping mall? It can be incredibly frustrating trying to find a helpful mall security guard!

Designate meet up point for the family, the military would call it an ERV or emergency rendezvous point, I am not that tacticool and I get over loaded with acronyms at work so I simply call it a meet up point. Make sure that your older kids and wife understand that if you get separated and for whatever reason the mobile phone doesn’t work be that because of terrorist attack, sun spots silly smart phone battery life spans that this is where we will meet up by whatever time is appropriate. I like to designate that spot outside of the mall itself or at a specific shop rather than a food court.

Plan your routes, Do your banking first. Indeed I would say don’t do banking at the mall at all but I know sometimes it is unavoidable but do not do your commercial type of transactions at this time. If you have an aversion to cards and it is simply to draw cash for your shopping then now is the time to do it. Doing that banking then the shopping will certainly mitigate against that nasty habit some criminals have of following you home from the bank. They want cash not groceries. After the banking then go do the browsing you know is going to happen. Use this opportunity to develop your knowledge of the malls lay out. Remember exits, maintenance passages and hard bits. Also use this opportunity to practice some of your observation skills. Look at the people around, try and work out what they do by their appearance, yes profile them. Try and remember distinctive features.  Every so often try and give a description of a person, quietly and to yourself of course. You will be amazed at how quickly this enhances your memory.

Onwards to the shop, clothes first, then the pharmacy, have a meal break and then at the very end the groceries. When you are in the shops another useful exercise in mental agility is to work out an alternative shooting, training or defensive use for everyday items. Some are easy, lice duct tape but some could tax your imagination. Try working out what to do with 25 sparklers at a range day. Let me know what you come up with. Remember through out all of this the importance of staying hydrated, with water as opposed to sugary drinks. Sometimes you do have to endure but this is not that environment. Stay comfortable and you will vastly improve your mental stamina.

So people watching, mind games and looking out for maintenance passageways and hard bits, sounding silly? Well not quite, what you are doing is keeping your mind agile and engaged in your surrounding instead of being suckered into the abundance of distractions that those types of environments and that mental agility is incredibly important because should something happen right now you wont have to cycle as far into the shock lag that other people will, you wont have to figure out that yes, something is happening, it is happening to you and what should you do about it. You have short circuited the entire response directly to, ‘yes I have a plan lets go!’


Bryan is a former South African police officer. After leaving the police service and following years conducting protective work in Afghanistan, Iraq and North Africa, he joined the corporate world as an incident management specialist for a Fortune 50 company. He continues to train with active duty professionals and concerned citizens

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