what to do if you hear gunshots

What to do if You Hear Gunshots

The majority of active shooter situations are committed with one weapon and last around five minutes. And five minutes can seem like a lifetime. Not many people think about this, but the first responders to any active shooter situation is… you. So what to do if you hear gunshots?

Follow these self defense steps if you hear gunshots:

  1. Keep calm and take cover
  2. Call 911
  3. A.L.I.C.E.
  4. Evacuate
  5. A plan, if evacuation is not possible
  6. Don’t be a hero


PLEASE don’t leave! Keep reading, because the information below could save your life. You will be prepared (and alive) instead of wondering what to do if you hear gunshots.

1. Keep Calm and Take Cover

First and foremost, when you hear a gunshot, remain calm. Panicking does nothing but cut off reason and logic.

Quickly move to cover or in a safe place where it would be harder for the active shooter to engage with you. At this point, your ‘flight or fight’ response is functioning in your brain and adrenaline is pumping through your body.

Take a deep breath, and stay calm.

2. Call 911

If you have access to a phone and can dial safely without alerting the shooting to your presence, call 911. DO NOT, under any circumstances, assume that anyone else has called the cops. The only time you can rest assured that the police have already been notified is when you see officers on the scene.

Take in all the information you can for the dispatcher. Location you are at, the location (approximately) of where gunshots were fired, and the description of the shooter.

There are times when gunshots are in odd places that you may hear. For example, in some rural areas on private farms and acreages, gunshots can be heard and are legal on such private property. However, you should still call 911. You will never be in trouble for calling 911 when you hear gunshots.

3. A.L.I.C.E.

For readers who have undergone A.L.I.C.E. training protocol, this is almost second nature. For those of you readers that haven’t heard of A.L.I.C.E., become familiar with the steps so that you can stay safe. In brief, A.L.I.C.E. is a gun reaction safety protocol that can be used in any situation. The acronym stands for:

A. Alert

L. Lockdown

I. Inform

C. Counter

E. Evacuate

You can use any step, in any order. The goal is to survive the active shooter situation by any means necessary. A.L.I.C.E. training is the new standard training for a variety of professionals in various fields, including businesses, hospitals, and schools. But it can be used anywhere, by anyone, at any time–and you don’t need to have passed the training course to do it.  

4. Evacuate

The fastest way to get out of an active shooter situation is to get the heck out of dodge! If you hear gunshots in the distance or you can see a gunman down the block or more than a football field away, MOVE FARTHER AWAY! Get as far away as possible, and call 911. Always take the chance to evacuate if you can. This is the fastest way to survive an active shooter situation. If it comes to the point where property damage is inevitable (smashing a window, breaking a door, etc.), do it! A broken window is replaceable– you are not.

5. If Evacuation is Not Possible

You can utilize A.L.I.C.E. and common sense to survive if evacuation is not possible. For example, if you are in a department store fitting rooms and you hear gunshots in the store. Lockdown, stay in the room, and pick up anything that gives a clue that you are in there. Again, it is important to keep calm.

If you are in the line of fire, you can still survive.

Run diagonally to become a harder target to hit. That gunman’s aim is functioning on adrenaline and time, they aren’t looking to hit with sniper accuracy for every target. Make yourself a hard target to hit.

When you are facing the business end of the gun, continue to become a harder target. Move your body and start throwing whatever you have near you to distract the shooter. You can also start screaming or yelling or making a bunch of noise. It distracts the shooter from concentrating on taking the shot, similar to the same way you can’t follow road directions accurately if the radio is too loud.

Every second of time you can buy is a second closer to surviving and more time for authorities to arrive. If you can safely disarm the shooter or otherwise incapacitate them, take the opportunity so long as you are not harming anyone or yourself.

In the unlikely event that you are in such a situation as the gun and shooter have been parted, safely pick up the gun with a firm grip and put it in a trash can, bin, or other neutral object.

DO NOT keep holding the gun until cops arrive or stash it in your purse, stroller, or any other personal belongings.

6. No Place for Heroics

Under no circumstances, at any point during an active shooter situation, should you actively search for the gunman and play the hero. It will get you killed or seriously injured and can harm others. If your only option is to counter attack, then take it–but do not actively engage the shooter in any sort of direct contact or dialogue.

Now you have the resources and some common tips for what to do if you hear gunshots. Remember, first and foremost is to remain calm and trust your instincts. They may just save your life.


What Sounds Sound Like a Gunshot?

Various sounds can mimic a gunshot, including fireworks, car backfires, and certain types of firecrackers. The abrupt, loud bang characteristic of these sounds can often be mistaken for gun fire.

How Do I Know If I Heard a Gun?

Identifying a gunshot can depend on the acoustic characteristics such as a sharp, loud crack followed by an echoing bang or thud. Awareness of the context and surroundings can also help determine if the sound is likely a gunshot.

Do Gunshots Sound Like Thunder?

Gunshots and thunder can sometimes be confused due to their loud, abrupt nature. However, gunshots typically have a sharper, more instantaneous sound, while thunder rumbles and can last several seconds.

Can You Hear a Bullet Coming?

It is generally difficult to hear a bullet coming as it travels at a speed faster than sound. By the time the sound reaches you, the bullet would have already passed, hence, the crack or whiz of the bullet is heard after it goes by.

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