Weeks before his shooting rampage at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Omar Mateen attempted to buy body armor and ammunition in bulk at a gun shop in South Florida. To the store owner’s credit, he refused to do so. The gun shop owner also claimed to have reported the unusual request to the FBI. But it’s not clear if he had identified Mateen by name to authorities, or had enough information that allowed authorities to assess the threat he posed. All we know is that Mateen later went to a different gun shop and bought the weapons and ammunition he needed for his deadly attack.
The gun shop staff deserves praise for their actions. But had they been trained in a different approach, they might have been able to obtain the kind of information authorities needed to prevent the tragedy. How could they have done that? The most useful, effective, and inexpensive weapon against criminals and terrorists is the ability to ask a good question. The proactive use of questioning allows one to learn more about the individual and whether they have hostile intent.
In the case of a gun shop employee approached by someone like Mateen who seeks to purchase something like body armor or bulk ammunition, don’t simply say “no.” Strive to obtain information that might reveal whether the individual is making the request for legitimate or nefarious purposes.
When asked about body armor, the gun shop employee could say, “Sure, let me take a look at your ID and we’ll start the process.” If the prospective buyer refuses, that may be indicative of suspicious intent. If the prospective buyer provides an ID, it could still mean suspicious intent, but now you have his name and address which later could be valuable to authorities.
Continue the conversation: “We have several types of body armor, tell me a little more about what it would be used for so we can set you up with the right stuff.” Of course, at any point, the buyer may get nervous, evasive, or refuse to answer. But that is also information of value because that buyer is displaying suspicious intent. The gun shop employee should note a description of the individual. Hopefully the gun shop has a video camera operating in the lobby allowing authorities to go back and see who was making the request.
At the South Florida gun shop weeks before his attack, Mateen asked for Level 3 body armor, so we know he was willing to disclose what he was seeking. The gun shop employee should continue the conversation. “Ok, will you be paying with credit card? Let me get that from you.” There’s a reasonable chance this additional ID would be provided. If not, that should also be noted. The gun shop employee can always insist, “I would be happy to sell this to you, but I need two forms of ID (if the buyer says he will pay cash), or one ID and a credit card.” Information from the ID’s should be documented.
After evaluating the totality of the conversation, a gun shop employee could still refuse to sell body armor or ammunition to the buyer which they did in the case of Mateen. But they did not appear to collect enough information useful to authorities. Since the FBI had already investigated Mateen in the past for possible terrorist connections, if they had had his name or other information as well as the suspicious request for body armor, it might have just been enough for the FBI to step in and disrupt what later turned in to the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
Questioning is one of the skills Chameleon Associates teaches to those involved in security or threat mitigation. While security and law enforcement are trained in response they are rarely trained on prevention. The Security Questioning course teaches trainees to deter, disrupt and prevent terrorists and criminals from achieving their goals. Proficiency in the Chameleon Security Questioning Technique is gained by interactive practice. This course includes questioning workshops and simulated scenarios that illustrate the application and use of the Chameleon Security Questioning Technique in day-to-day security operations.
Contributor: Mark Randol, Chameleon Associates