You might be surprised by what will (and will not) stop a bullet. This heavy steel fire door certainly looks and sounds formidable, but regular old 115-grain 9mm ball ammo passed right through it without issue.
Learning how to identify cover and how to use that cover to defend yourself are essential self-defense skills. But before we go any further, it is important that everyone be on the same page as far as definitions go.
While cover and concealment may sound like the same thing, there is a major difference between the two. Cover is defined as any object that has the capability of stopping bullets, such as a solid brick wall, an engine block or bulletproof glass. While some objects may not completely stop bullets, they might deflect them, reducing the extent of your injury if you’re hit. While they may still count as cover, they’re not cover like a poured-concrete wall is.
Concealment is any object behind which you can hide so that your assailant can’t see you, making it more difficult for him or her to shoot you. Examples of concealment include a tipped-over table in a restaurant and a line of hedges. Whichever you are able to get to, being able to identify and knowing how to use cover and concealment to your advantage can save your life if you’re confronted by a rapid mass murderer.


According to Fred Mastison, president of Force Options Tactical Training Solutions and internationally recognized as one of the top combatives and firearms instructors in the world, situational awareness is vital to identifying cover — which, in turn, will become of vital importance if you suddenly find yourself under attack.
“Whenever you enter a building, restaurant [or] store, or if you are outside, such as walking around a park, you should always scan the area and look for what you could use for cover and concealment,” he said. “It should become part of your nature to do this every time you leave your home.”
“As a matter of fact, it’s best to look for more than one exit because that door that you just came in is the same door that everyone else used, and they’re going to be trying to get out the same door,” he continued.
“Always look for a second [or] even a third exit, such as an emergency exit. When in a restaurant, it may surprise you that there’s almost always a back door or another exit from the kitchen.”
Identify potential threats and anything out of the ordinary. For instance, if you’re dining in a restaurant in the summer and a guy walks in wearing a thick fleece hoodie with the hood up, has sunglasses on and has his hands thrust into his sweatshirt pockets, that should spark suspicion. Why would he need to wear such warm clothing in the summertime? Why is he wearing sunglasses indoors? And if you can’t see his hands, how do you know he’s not holding a gun?
In addition to keeping an eye out for potential trouble, whenever you find yourself in a new environment, it is also important to look around to identify tools that you might be able to use to your advantage.
“After you’ve identified cover and concealment objects, look for items that could aid or effect any escape or defense plan you may have,” Mastison stated. Whether you’re in a home-improvement center or a grocery store, pay attention to your surroundings so that you can improvise as effective a weapon as you can if need be. Never wait until the last minute to determine what you’ll do if gunfire erupts.
“If it comes down to the last moment when gunshots start to ring out, and now you’re looking for cover or concealment, you are behind the curve,” Mastison warned. “That’s why it’s always important to be looking around where you’re at. It’s not a matter of paranoia; it’s a matter of preparedness.”


You may be forced to return fire to defend yourself or others, so do your best now to make sure that the first time you try to move while firing your gun isn’t during a crisis.
But whether you’re just moving or moving and shooting, it is more difficult for your attacker to hit a moving target than a stationary one. And if the threat is very close to you, getting behind cover first might be much more important than being able to immediately draw your firearm.
According to Mastison, the next step is to have a plan beyond that. “You can’t just stay in that same spot,” he stated. “If the attacker is mobile, and they’re moving around and shooting people, there’s a chance that [the shooter] can find you. We need to do our best to break away from there and move to yet another piece of cover. You need to have a plan of ‘Where am I going next?,’ of ‘What’s my next step in order to move even further?’”
For example, if you’re walking down the street and someone starts shooting and you see a car behind you, make a dash to shield yourself behind that vehicle. Then dash to the next car behind that one. Within seconds, you’re three or four cars away from the shooter. The goal is to move away from the threat as quickly and as safely as possible.
When you do find cover, you don’t want to get too close to it, which is called “hugging your cover.” If you can get around the corner of a brick building, don’t then lean right up against that brick wall. This could rapidly reduce your chances of survival because physically leaning up against a wall compromises your ability to move effectively, specifically in the context of weapons manipulation and reloads.
Worse, if you hug your cover too tightly and then you go to lean out around it to “slice the pie” to assess the situation and possibly return fire, you will be exposing far more of your body to the attacker than necessary. Stay a few feet back from the object to keep most of your body behind cover; an arm’s length is just about perfect. If, however, your assailant is in an elevated “sniper” position and is above you, hug that cover object like it’s your best friend. If you back a few feet away in this situation, he or she can easily shoot over your cover object to hit you.
As for returning fire, you never want to shoot from the same angle and location twice in a row. If you become predictable, you’ve basically given up your tactical advantage. For example, if you’re using a vehicle for cover and you’ve just shot from behind the engine compartment, your next string of shots should ideally come from the rear of the vehicle. Depending on a vehicle’s clearance, you could even lay next to it and send accurate fire under it and into an attacker’s legs or torso.


Exchanging fire with an assailant should always be a last resort. Evasion should be your top priority.
“This is going to be difficult for some people to understand, but if you find yourself in an active-shooter situation and you’re armed, your job is to protect yourself, your family and your loved ones, so I recommend you do your best to get away from the situation,” Mastison advised. “Some may say ‘I’m going to pull my gun out and run toward the bad guy.’ But if there’s a police officer nearby, and he sees you running toward the gunfire, and you’re not wearing a badge, and you’re carrying a gun, there’s a good chance you’re going to get shot. He doesn’t know who you are.”


Be realistic about your training. It won’t do you any good lying to yourself about your level of preparation. Ask yourself not only how much training you’ve had but also what kind of training it was. Have you had classes in defensive tactics or been trained in close-quarter combatives? Standing at a firing line at a range and shooting at a static paper target is completely different than firing at a flesh-andbone assailant.
“Are you able to hit a moving target in a mall with 60 other civilians around that bad guy, or are you going to start putting rounds into random, innocent bystanders?” Mastison asked. “We want to stop evil, but we need to make sure we’re in the right place, have the right mindset and have the right skill set in order to make that happen.”


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