SALT LAKE CITY — It was a scene played out in someone's worst nightmare. The stuff of Hollywood horror. James Holmes — according to witnesses and police — donned a protective helmet, throat protector, full body armor and then opened fire, mowing down theatergoers in their seats.
Days after the unspeakable tragedy in Aurora, Colo., those who school law enforcement in active shooter situations say Holmes used fundamental principles taught in assault training: overwhelming power, speed and surprise.
If you train for that 90 mile per hour pitch and you hit it consistently, you can do it even in that environment, but it's really, really tough.
–OPSGEAR CEO David Burnell
OPSGEAR founder and CEO David Burnell said Monday he doubted somebody with a gun could have diffused or altered the events at the Century 16, but he said in general the long odds of survival in a shooting rampage can be improved.
"If you train for that 90 mile per hour pitch and you hit it consistently," Burnell analogized, "You can do it even in that environment, but it's really, really tough."
Burnell's firm — in addition to being a merchant of defense gear and armor — trains law enforcement and military to react calmly in these kinds of situations, and he says concealed carry holders can benefit from the same practice techniques.
In total, it's called "stress inoculation training." Burnell said in target shooting it involves added elements of time restraints and critical or analytical thinking to get people to react cooler under pressure.
"You reduce the amount of visual target area," Burnell said, pointing to a target poster on a wall of a man pointing a gun, holding a woman by the throat. "You've got basically his ocular cavity which is this box [pointing to an area on the poster of the supposed suspect's eyes and nose]."
Burnell said a trainee may be directed to shoot at a particular color spot on the target — or more complicated, solving a mathematical problem while discerning where the designated target is.
"Simple things like that can get people more prepared and more trained to respond more effectively under that environment even though it's very, very hard and the force multipliers are in his favor," Burnell said.
Burnell acknowledged aside from police, it likely would have taken at minimum a tandem of concealed weapons holders - one operating as what he calls a "bullet magnet" - to have stopped Holmes.
Other less sophisticated preservation techniques Burnell suggested included getting as low to the ground as possible to reduce the possibility of being hit by a bullet, and working as a group to "dog-pile" a shooter.
Holmes' armor made him someone even the most experienced of law enforcement teams would find dangerous and difficult to stop if he continued firing.
OPSGEAR, Burnell said, does not sell body armor to civilians - though it is legal to be sold - because of the risk of somebody using the armor against law enforcement.
"Law enforcement would be at high, grave risk with somebody like this," Burnell said. "We don't necessarily believe civilians don't have the right to buy body armor - we're just not interested in selling it to them."