How to React to Gunfire

Four Methods:OutsideIn a buildingIn a carWorkplace or school

Upon hearing gunfire, what is your first instinct? You probably don't know. For most civilians, it's an unknown experience. However, should you be placed in the position of hearing gunfire in your vicinity, do you know what to do? Many people would freeze or might even choose to run into the gunfire in the ensuing panic. If you spend a little time now thinking about how to react, it might help you if you ever find yourself in this unfortunate and terrifying predicament.

Method 1

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    At the sound of gunfire or seeing a shooter or hearing bullets, get down. Get down flat, and do it fast, because the bullet travels faster than sound. Don't kneel or crouch; you must be flat on the ground. Drop anything you're holding. Wait until you identify the active shooter. Get away, if possible.
    • You might have seen the muzzle flash or smoke, but it is not usually possible to see all that when you are flat on the ground. It is most important to protect yourself initially; you can scout around after you've flattened to the ground.
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    Do not run at the sound of gunfire. By running, you might be going into the direction of where the gunfire originated and get shot. Moreover, not everyone is as good at ascertaining the exact direction of the noise and may mistake the direction with dire results. Running may also attract the attention of the shooter.
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    After getting down, instantly ascertain where the gunfire came from and how far away the shooter is. Do not look around for the person firing; rely on your ears and be prepared to keep moving away from the sound. Do not investigate; all you are wanting to do is to determine if you can hear anyone and if it's going to be safe to reach better cover than where you are now. You will also want to determine whether the gunshots are directed at you or if there are immediate threats near you.[1] If you need to look, always look around and not over whatever cover you're using.[2]
    • "The terrain" is the area where the gunfire comes from and where you will take cover in or conceal yourself in. Know the rises, but realize that the upper ground is not where gunfire always comes from, especially if the shooter is trying to conceal their movements. Be aware that gunfire can come from all areas.
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    An instant after getting down, quickly move to better cover. Do not automatically move to the rise (high ground). Instead move out of the line of fire and move to where there is cover, so that you can get behind something. The cover can be protective like a depression in the ground or concealing such as brush which obscures the view of you. Stay still.
    • Hiding gives you a chance to evaluate the situation. You don't know what weapon is being used to fire the shots, so you can never be sure that your cover is adequate but it does give you the chance to stay out of sight and to work out what to do next.
    • If the cover or concealment is the only cover or concealment where you are, it's possible that the shooter is there. If so, don't move toward it.
    • If there is absolutely no cover at all within 2 to 3 seconds sprinting from where you are, drop to the ground and crawl to the cover. (It takes a marksman about 3-4 seconds to set the sight on a target, hence the 2-3 second sprint guide.)[3] Stay low at all times.
    • The nearest cover may be a wet gutter or a fire hydrant but it's better than nothing.
    • If you are with a group, do not move together. Instead, move as individuals, at intervals and do so as unpredictably as you can to make it harder to be detected.[4]
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    Determine what is happening. When you have a better grasp from your hiding position of what is going on, seek to keep moving yourself away from the direction of the gunfire. Avoid it rather than becoming part of it; once you're well away, you can alert the authorities.
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    Call emergency services. If you have a cell phone on you and you can call without making your actions evident, then call for help from the police by dialing the appropriate emergency services number for your location and asking for the police. If you have been able to locate the person shooting, give a description of them and let the police know if you want to be contacted or if it's safer to maintain silence for now.
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    Summarize your needed actions. So that you can remember this, remember: Stop, drop, cover or conceal, assess and leave.

Method 2
In a building

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    If you're inside a building, remain inside and keep some form of communications equipment with you or close by.
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    If others are with you, stick together as a group.
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    Take cover and lock all doors that can be locked. Keep away from windows. Cover can include situating yourself behind a large machine such as a photocopier or behind bulky furniture.
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    Raise the alarm through your communications devices as quickly as possible.
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    Once you have done all this, take the time to assess whether it is safe to exit the building or it is better to remain inside. If you can't tell, stay put.
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    If the gunfire comes closer to you, move to a safe room or bomb shelter if there is one or move into a room without outside walls or under the stairs. Do not leave until an all-clear signal has been given.
    • During a hostage or similar dramatic situation such as being in a war zone, if there is time, remove glass from the windows to prevent it from being shattered and having the splinters hurled about. If there are mattresses you can access, wet them and place them up against the windows; these can prevent shards of glass from flying about if the windows are broken and they can also sometimes even stop bullets.[5]
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    Get to the roof. If it appears that shooting has entered the building itself and you don't have a safe zone, move to the roof as a last resort. Lock the access door to the roof, keep away from the edges of the roof and do whatever you can to signal for help (such as calling for help, using flares or a flashlight, etc.).

Method 3
In a car

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    If you're using a car as cover from shooting, do your best to get away from the area where the gas/petrol tank is situated.
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    Keep down as windows are obviously no protection.
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    Try to hide behind the engine block by one of the front wheels.[6]

Method 4
Workplace or school

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  • Learn the difference between cover and concealment...Cover is preferred.
  • For more methods on how to evade gunfire, read How to evade gunfire, which goes into more detail about what to do after you've reacted to it in the initial stages.
  • More than anything else, keep your head down at all times.
  • If you can do so safely, try to ascertain the type of weapon being used. The type of weapon being used may give an indication as to how much damage the shooter intends to inflict. For example, for an American soldier in a war zone, an AK-47 round is much bigger and powerful than the American soldier's standard M-16 round, so hearing an AK-47 round means that it is most likely not friendly fire.
  • Standing up, looking through windows, or looking around can make you an easy-to-see target.


  • Forget all equipment; it can either be retrieved or replaced whereas your life cannot. Drop anything that hinders your escape.
  • Use your own firearm only if you, or someone else, is in imminent danger of losing their life.
  • Do not take out your cell phone to record the situation.

Things You'll Need

  • Cover or concealment
  • Quick thinking without panic

Sources and Citations

  • Part of this article is derived from a narrative of Dennis Irie and he agreed to have his name used a source.
  • Tips from Dave, "If you hear gunshots", – research source.
  • Rosie Garthwaite, How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone: The Essential Guide for Dangerous Places, pp. 86-87 – research source.
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