Is Amtrak trying to create victims by stomping on the Second Amendment?

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Amtrak recently produced a safety video that garnered some negative attention in the shooting community. How valid are the criticisms?

This article about Amtrak’s new safety campaign has been getting a lot of attention, most of it condescending or ridiculing (as the author of the piece shows.) I think everyone is missing the bigger picture, because I think the video is actually pretty good — for what it is.

The video was produced by Amtrak to educate riders (and the public at large) about their options should an attack occur. It’s come under fire from the overly gun-centric part of the self defense community, who decry that they didn’t recommend shooting back; some of them even go so far as to charge that Amtrak is “encouraging people to be victims” or “promoting gun control”.


First off, it’s important to remember that an Amtrak train, like an airliner, is a non-permissive environment with regard to firearms. Now a train isn’t nearly as restrictive as a commercial flight (and for that I’m thankful), but firearms are still prohibited. Like booking on United Airlines, booking on Amtrak requires that one obey those rules.

The Amtrak passenger, like the airline passenger, is therefore denied possession the most efficient tool available for the attack where lethal force is warranted: the firearm. Still, it doesn’t mean that in either case you should give up or consider yourself defenseless!

The video depicts scenarios of attacks and suggests three possible responses: “take flight, take cover, take action”. This isn’t terribly different than the current state of the art in private sector teaching: evade, barricade, arm/respond. It’s a logical way of dealing with a surprise attack in a public space and is light years beyond “cover and cower” that was being taught just a couple of years ago. (Take a look at the new book “Defend Yourself” from Rob Pincus, for instance, and you’ll find that he recommends the same basic ideas.)

Much of the criticism of the video comes from a suggestion in the “take action” segment that you can, among other things, throw a duffel bag at a gunman to disorient him. I’ve seen a variety of responses to this suggestion, but the general attitude is “it’s not as good as having a gun, so it’s stupid!” These miss the point entirely: on a train or an airplane, you don’t have a gun and you need to consider other options — or submit.

Is throwing heavy objects as effective as a firearm against an armed attacker? No, it’s not; no one, including Amtrak, is saying that it is. Still, can it disorient someone long enough so that you (or someone else) can do something more to actually stop the attacker, like tackling him? Yes, and that’s the point.

This is a theme I keep returning to, because there are too many people who are convinced that the gun is the only possible way they’ll ever be safe. It’s not true; you have options even when you’re not carrying a firearm!

It’s not that a gun wouldn’t be a better tool; it’s that, in a non-permissive environment like a train or an airliner, an improvised response — however inefficient — is still a damn sight better than doing nothing at all. Throwing a duffel bag at an attacker may not stop him in and of itself, but at the very least it will give others a chance to get away or join in the fight.

Think of it this way: which would you rather have your kids do at school when an active shooter breaks in — huddle in a corner behind an overturned table and wait for the end, or swarm the gunman and hit him in the head with the fire extinguisher that’s hanging on the wall? Cower in the corner, or jump out the ground-floor window and run to safety?

That’s all this Amtrak video is saying: run away, if it’s safe to do so; barricade in a secure area, if there is one; go on the offensive, using whatever means you have. That’s solid advice for any scenario!

No, I don’t like the fact that Amtrak is a non-permissive environment; I don’t like that fact that the airport is, too. All things being equal I’d rather be carrying a defensive firearm than not. But these are the kinds of environments in which we sometimes are required to live, and I’d rather people internalize the idea that they’re not helpless, that they can fight back and prevail over an attacker, rather than lament the fact that they’re not carrying their favorite pistol and are therefore defenseless.

As I’ve said before (and I’ll say again and again until everyone gets the point): it’s not all about the gun.

-=[ Grant ]=-


About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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