Instructor Brian Smith at the GSL Chicagoland meeting. He's demonstrating how to free yourself from someone trying to grab you by the wrist and pull you out of a car. Image by Boch.
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Not long ago, Guns Save Life welcomed one of the best firearm instructors in the nation at our GSL meeting. During his visit, Brian Smith talked about strategies for dealing with the rampant carjackings taking place in Chicagoland.

It can happen to anyone, and it’s happening increasingly in cities across the country. In fact, it happened to Smith’s own son not far from mom and dad’s house.

Smith weaved in some videos with personal experiences and advice. Obviously, with the relative paucity of carry licenses in Chicago compared to other locations, bad guys can be reasonably confident their victims won’t have the means to shoot back.

He personalized the lesson recalling how he helped save his son from getting carjacked not so long ago, and played the 9-1-1 recording of his wife’s call for help as the retired cop held the would-be carjacker — a man out on parole for murder — at gunpoint.

As a learning tool, Smith showed surveillance videos of carjackings. Groups of three to four perpetrators generally commit these violent thefts. Before they act, they drive around looking for nice rides. Then they look for opportunities to carry out a carjacking as the driver is stopped…at a traffic light, a stop sign or getting out of their car such as at a gas station, in a parking lot. And sometimes they a stage accidents.

Sometimes they’ll slip a note or some money under a windshield wiper in a parking lot to get their victims to stop, get out and read the note or pull the cash out from under the windshield wiper. They strike while the motorist is reading the note or getting the cash.

In addition to high-end cars and SUVs wanted for joyrides, more organized carjackers also target plain Jane cars like the Honda and Toyota sedans along with popular pickup trucks. Parted out, these newer cars are worth more for parts than the car is as a whole. Obviously thieves need the key fob to make the car run, so they have to get it from the occupant while they’re in or near their car/truck/SUV.

Smith suggested the first and foremost way to avoid carjacking is to maintain heightened situational awareness when approaching or leaving your car anywhere in public. Also, while driving, carefully watch for someone following you, especially if they vehicle has a number of people in it.

If you suspect someone is following you, make a series of right turns around a block or two and if they’re still behind you, call 9-1-1 and drive toward the nearest police station.

In parking lots, he recommended parking close to the entrance. Also, by parking close to another parked car, you force anyone approaching to “line up” or “stack” to reduce the number of people you have to defend against at the same time.

He also recommended what he calls “tactical parking” — backing into a parking place which allows you to leave in a hurry if something hinky happens.

Other suggestions from audience members included ONLY fueling in the mornings at stations in better, more heavily traveled areas.

From some of the videos, other lessons included . . .

  • Park in well-lit areas or near store entrances where there are a lot of people.
    Stay alert. Walk toward your parked car with the key already in your hand. Check the car’s immediate surroundings for anything suspicious. Be aware of nearby cars that are occupied. Be wary of people asking for directions. If your gut tells you something’s wrong, something is probably wrong. Return to an occupied area and call the police or seek assistance from security.
  • Don’t approach your car with both hands full.
  • Stay off the phone. Nothing screams “distracted victim” more than checking your phone as you approach your car, right after entering the car, or at a stop light. Keep your head up, not buried in your phone.
  • Be especially alert any time you come to a stop – at traffic lights, gated entrances, drive-ups or drive-throughs, highway exits, or anywhere there are pedestrians… especially where pedestrians appear to be loitering or panhandling.

  • Lock your doors and close your windows while driving. That sounds pretty self-explanatory, but this can’t be emphasized enough. You don’t want to give car thieves the opportunity to drag you out of your own car when you stop at the intersection.
  • Don’t leave valuables (like your purse, ladies) in plain sight. Place your bags, gadgets, etc. where they can’t be seen from outside the car.
  • Avoid driving in unfamiliar areas or shady neighborhoods if possible. Don’t gas up just anywhere. Consider driving through a gas station looking for anyone who’s loitering before you select a pump.
  • Avoid using ATMs in sketchy locations and use them in the mornings, not at midnight.
  • Keep your car tuned up and full of gas. You don’t want to run out of gas or break down to make yourself a prime target for bad things to happen.

  • Allow room between your car and the one ahead of you. As a rule of thumb, if you can see the bottom of the rear tires of the car in front of you, you have enough room to maneuver in case you need to get away.
  • Don’t get out of your car immediately after a traffic accident. Call 9-1-1, even if there are no injuries or it seems minor. You may have just been bumped by people planning to take your car at gun- or knifepoint.

Bad guys displaying weapons trying to carjack you are generally fair game for you to employ deadly force in self-defense, Smith said. This may involve using your car’s bumper or squashing them between your car and something else.

Alternatively, you could use your firearm, although he cautioned against shooting unarmed bad guys trying to steal your unoccupied car. Now, if your three-year-old twin grandkids are in the back, that’s another story entirely.

He also mentioned that just like athletes get hurt on the field, then sometimes get up and return to the game, bad guys who have been shot sometimes do the same thing.

If you have to shoot an attacker, you need to know they may get back up and “return to the game” of attacking you. For this reason, he says, you need as much ammo as you can reasonably carry. And, he said, a five-shot revolver just isn’t enough today.

Smith with GSL Chicagoland Regional Director Alfreda Keith-Keller.

Smith called upon volunteers and demonstrated some simple empty-hand techniques to escape a grab attempt, including relaxing your body against someone trying to grab or pull you (easier said than done when under attack) and how just opening your clenched fist and pointing your fingers at the sky you can often escape someone trying to pull you by the hand (say, out of a car).

Few people have a chance to shoot through windshields, but he noted how shooting through safety glass will deflect bullets significantly. When firing into a car through the windshield, the rounds will deflect downwards. When firing out through a windshield, the rounds will deflect upwards, causing rounds to go over the head of an attacker standing just five or ten feet in front of the car if you don’t compensate.

The audience asked a number of questions and Mr. Smith did a tremendous job answering them, oftentimes by pulling up videos from quite a library to emphasize his points.

Mr. Smith offers a wide range of courses for regular people through his Metropolitan Police Self-Defense Institute of Chicago.

Mr. Smith, who’s based in Illinois, has a resume that’s akin to that of nationally-known trainers like Massad Ayoob, John Farnam and similar instructors. In this time of spiraling violent crime, citizens owe it to themselves to be prudent about their personal defense. You don’t have to live life as a helpless, defenseless victim.

Empower yourself. Become a firearm owner, get training and become a hard target.

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  1. It would appear (at least based on this article and the embedded videos) that the #1 defense against a Carjacking is to steer clear of Chicago, or for that matter any other decaying Urban environment.

  2. I’d be quite shocked if anyone tried to jack my 20 year old van. Regardless I always have a loaded gat with me. And do EVERYTHING mentioned in this very good post…

    • I would be pretty surprised if someone attempted to jack my 20-year-old vehicle. Regardless, I carry a loaded gat at all times. And do EVERYTHING recommended in this excellent article…

  3. I’ve had many opportunities to shoot through auto glass, safety glass, even “bullet proof” glass.

    The latter works well on all pistol calibers typically, less well on rifle calibers though it still works on them as well to some extent.

    I’ve never seen ANY deflection of any caliber including 22 long from any auto glass whatsoever.

    • In the 70’s I shot a .38 special 158 grain lead round nose bullet from a 2 inch Colt at a 59 chevy. The windshield on that car was curved and sloped. I stood at the front bumper and fired. That windshield turned all the bullets. None penetrated.

      We used a variety of calibers and guns on that car. I was unimpressed with the commonly used handgun calibers of that time.

      Rifle and shotgun rounds were a whole other story.

      • I vaguely remember geometry of bullet and softness of construction were factors but the guess back then was .40sw was the best fmj for windshields and 357sig for hollow points. At this point the guesswork is over a decade old (may be 2 decades) and likely needs updating.

  4. Saw a news report from SA about rampant car jacking years ago. Folks were installing flame throwers in their cars. Flip a switch and the weeds get cropped around your car.

    Very James Bond.

  5. Everything you have, at some point someone else is gonna think about wanting your ‘stuff’. They may not act on their desire for your stuff at the time but the threat is always around. In 2022, especially as we get closer to Christmas time, for every 8 hours you spend in public view you will be targeted as a potential victim of a violent crime at least four times and encounter at least 36 people (e.g. passing you in traffic or in store, walking down the street, at a park, etc…) who have committed a violent crime in the last 48 hours and will seek targets of opportunity if they get the chance.

    • .40 cal Booger,

      I recall that you have shared similar information before. While it sounds like it could certainly be plausible, I like to verify information. What is your source for that information?

      • My source for the information is my wife.

        She is a contract journalist normally, but she is really a trained researcher and in-between journalism contracts she does research for various companies and research organizations and also for government entities.

        Every year the government through the NIH contracts for various things for research, and gives out contracts to various contractors for various research projects. For the last 10 years my wife and three other researchers have received $20,000.00 contracts annually to do the research for this. And when its finally done every year they have a little get together to compare their product and have dinner, then they submit their research, collect their checks, and the NIH does who knows what with it and the research its self I’ve never seen made public.

        The sources (collectively) are from federal and state records, arrest records, FBI data, court records.

        And every year they do the research independently and come to the same conclusions. Politically, two of them are left wing liberal democrats, one independent, and my wife is conservative. Down in the weeds of the minutia of the research they some times vary by 1% or 2% on some things, there is a lot more, but on this item they are in agreement every year.

        Your tax dollars at work.

  6. How could carjacking be increasing?
    We’ve adopted all these gadgets and schemes like plate scanners, Lowjack devices, chipped keys, proximity fobs and of course the mandatory registering your vehicle and VIN for a nominal fee.

    Yet thefts are increasing???????

    It’s almost like none of this intrusive, expensive and mandatory shit is helping? Do we need to adopt more intrusive, expensive and mandatory shit? If so I’m totally on board.

  7. I learned about leaving enough distance during drivers ed. Leaving that space leaves a safety margin in case of being rear-ended. Not sure about parking close to the entrance and next to another vehicle. Seems like it would make it easier for a bad guy(s) to hide and ambush you. Also would make backing into or pulling thru a parking space more difficult. Everything else makes sense.

    • My2cents,

      Personally, I prefer to park far away from a store entrance in an empty section of the parking lot. That allows me to see someone approaching from afar and gives me ample time to prepare. I am speaking from experience by the way.

    • Not just a car with a manual transmission, a car with a manual transmission whose gear shift lever was actually the actuator for the car’s hidden ejection seat!

      • I recall a fellow auto mechanic (back when I was an apprentice at a shop) who owned a really nice restored Camaro. He would simply take the gearshift knob with him when he parked the car. Nobody could possibly drive that heavy-clutched, Holly-throated muscle car without it.

  8. From the article:

    When firing into a car through the windshield, the rounds will deflect downwards. When firing out through a windshield, the rounds will deflect upwards …

    I want verification of that.

    Simple intuition says that when you are outside and fire a bullet into a windshield, the angle of the glass should deflect the bullet up which is opposite of the statement in this article. And the corollary, simple intuition says that if you are inside your car and shooting outside through your windshield, the angle of the windshield should deflect your bullet down, again the opposite of the statement in this article.


        and here’s why, “When firing into a car through the windshield, the rounds will deflect downwards. When firing out through a windshield, the rounds will deflect upwards …” …. basically…

        “Let’s look at shooting from a vehicle through the windshield at an assailant in front of the vehicle. To set up the training scenario, we’ll say that the car has stalled. I say this because, like me, you would probably just run over someone presenting a lethal threat in front of your car.

        Now, if you aim at the threat’s center-mass and fire your shot, the impact will be higher than your point of aim. If you look at the bullet hole on the windshield you will notice that it is oblong. This is because the windshield is at an angle. This angle causes the top of the bullet to impact first, thus changing its flight path. As you can imagine, there are a number of moving parts to this copper and laminated glass formula. As a general rule of thumb, though, you are encouraged to shoot several inches low when firing from inside a vehicle.

        If the roles are reversed and you find yourself shooting into a vehicle through the windshield, the same physics apply. This time, however, the slope of the glass will cause the lower part of the bullet to strike first, thus causing a lower point of impact. So, you need to aim higher.”

        • its a physics thing and its true that “When firing into a car through the windshield, the rounds will deflect downwards. When firing out through a windshield, the rounds will deflect upwards …”

        • There was an older CSI (original Vegas) episode with a scene that focused on that, pretty much saying the same thing you did. The perp happened to be a battered wife who shot at her husband as he pulled up in the driveway, expecting only to scare him as the bullet deflected upward away from his head and above it. Unfortunately, she didn’t check the mag, which was loaded with wide-mouthed hollow points. The bullet’s lip grabbed the glass as it passed thru, causing it to deflect downward and therefore strike the husband, killing him.

        • .40 cal Booger,

          Thank you for the links. Now I understand why bullets deflect as they do–which matches the claims in this article.

          I carry a full-size handgun chambered in .40 S&W with Winchester Ranger bonded 180 grain jacketed hollowpoint bullets. I carry that particular caliber and bullet intentionally for self-defense so that I will have less deflection if I ever have to shoot through glass. (Less deflection than lighter rounds such as popular 115 grain 9mm Luger and 125 grain .38 Special bullets.)

  9. Thankfully I am not a very sweet looking man being aggressively Irish and my body tells on me having worked as a heavy equipment mechanic for many years . I also recognise what we call the ” sly eyes ” when I see them and the fact that I always carry a .45 probably causes my self confidence to come out and warn the criminal element that there are much easier targets around without getting themselves killed . I could use some occasional target practice under duress but sadly I just ain’t pretty .

  10. First do not live in Democrat run cities.
    2nd do not vote for democrats in your state.
    Third shot carjackers down before they can shoot you, in self defence.

  11. If you look closely at the materials old cars and trucks were made of you would understand how a boolit would bounce off. Light weight and high gas mileage were not a concern. Just drive an old clunker like po folk like me! It’s gonna turn into kidnapping when we all get computer chips imbedded in our skin to start our electric flying cars in the future.

  12. the #1 carjacking defensive tip
    to avoid becoming a victim:
    dont drive a car
    in a medium to large city
    that is governed by democrats



  14. Car jacking avoidance .
    My rims are spray painted red, the roof is spray painted flat black , I’ve got bat wings on the trunk, most of the clear coat is gone, , it’s a green 97 Sunfire, and I leave the keys in the ignition with the windows rolled down. My only concern is theyll bring it back and sue me for trauma.

  15. The mans a fat-flock idiot!
    Just CLOSE the bloody windows and keep the door’s locked A bad boy in a rush is NOT going to hang around trying to open locked bloody doors’
    I mean I would have thought that was glaringly obvious -I do it even in the UK where I’ve never seen a HANDGUN in public in my 85 years. In fact my cars lock the doors when I drive off or whan the engine has been running for a few seconds so locked doors are the DEFAULT position and have to be opened electronically and who drives with open windows with efficient A/C. Nobody but an idiot leaves their windows open as an invitation when the car is unoccupied . DO THEY.? If I did then my INSURANCE is cancelled


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