Last night, I was shopping at Wal-Mart (love to hate that evil giant) with my wife. After about 20-30 minutes of shopping through the grocery section, there was an announcement made over the intercom system. I couldn’t hear the exact words used, but it indicated that there was a situation in the parking lot, and the police had requested that all customers and employees stay inside until told otherwise. I was immediately glad that I had my S&W M&P (17+1 rounds) with me. Also, I was glad that I had not removed the extra magazine from my pocket I had been carrying all day, like I had contemplated doing before leaving the house to go to the store. Call it great instincts or intuition, a premonition, or just dumb luck that I didn’t remove the extra mag, I’m happy I made the decision I did.
Right after the announcement was made, a man and a woman standing next to us mentioned that they saw several employees chasing a man throughout the store a few minutes before, so that’s probably what was going on in the parking lot. Hearing this, I figured that it was someone who was trying to steal something from the store and would be dealt with rather quickly.
As the minutes went by, and the people with full carts started stacking up at the exits, it started to occur to me that I had not been aware of my surroundings at all before that moment. I’m always watching people around me to make sure nothing major sticks out, and I like to think that I do a good job of this, but still… What if the guy getting chased had decided to take a random customer as a hostage? What is he had started shooting, starting in the direction of my wife and myself? Did he have an accomplice? If so, did anyone know about it already? Could getting chased have been nothing but a distraction to allow something worse to happen? All kinds of questions began to enter my head. I was disappointed in myself for having been so oblivious. Carrying the physical, tangible tools you need to defend yourself and your loved ones (gun, extra magazine, flashlight, etc…) is a great thing to do in order to be prepared for anything. However, if you don’t have your mental tools with you (situational awareness being the main example here), then the other tools might not be helpful at all.
My wife and I kept shopping for the rest of the things on our list, but I’m sure I wasn’t much help after I became aware of my recent “fail,” as I was watching everyone around me more than ever before, as well as the front doors. At one point, she asked me to go to the other side of the store to grab a couple of items for her while she stayed in the produce section to bag a few things. Being the wonderful, helpful husband I always try to be, I immediately said, “Sure. Meet you back over here in just a few.” I couldn’t have walked more than 20 feet before I realized what I was about to do – leave my wife in a public place, mere moments after learning about some kind of a “police situation” still happening just outside the building. I stopped in my tracks, whipped the cart back around, and headed back toward her. She was just as relieved as I was to be next to each other again. She told me that just after we parted ways, she wished that she hadn’t asked me to go. I was so proud of her for realizing the potential situation.
After about 30-45 minutes of being cooped up in the store, and on our way back to the grocery side from grabbing the items from the other side of the store, the doors were opened and the queue to leave calmly dissipated. On our way out the door, we asked the greeter if she knew what had happened. She indicated that her manager told her there was some kind of threat, but that it should be safe to go outside. I know that police have no legal obligation/duty to protect anyone, but I felt that if they were already letting people leave, then they must have felt confident that the danger to everyone had passed. Just in case though, I unzipped my jacket to ensure easy, quick access to my pistol if necessary, and kept my head on a swivel.
Morals of the story:
1 - Keep your head up and working properly at all times!
2 – If you ever have the weird feeling like you shouldn’t do what you’re about to do (remove a piece of your “gear”), just don’t it. Better safe than sorry.