Holiday Season Personal Defense Situational Awareness
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Thanksgiving is in a few days, folks. As if you didn’t know. And the day after, the dreaded (or perhaps welcomed, depending on your POV) holiday shopping blitz officially begins.

The holiday season presents a particular challenge in terms of self-defense. It’s common for home and car robberies and assaults to go up by a good margin at this time of year. The reasons for this are likely varied, but from a common sense perspective, no doubt some of them include:

  • Around stores and shopping malls, people are purchasing high-dollar goods in higher quantities than any other time of year.
  • People are more distracted by crowds, long lines, and their shopping lists, and are less situationally aware.
  • When coming out of malls and stores, people not infrequently have multiple bags and/or big boxes in their arms, rendering them unable to easily grab a weapon or fight someone off.
  • Having to park far from stores and malls due to crowds can mean having to park in less well-lit or secure areas.
  • Crowded parking lots give more cover to lurkers waiting for shoppers headed for their cars.
  • People are frequently out of town for family visits, leaving their homes more vulnerable.
  • People are more likely to be carrying larger sums of cash or multiple credit cards on their person than usual.

Just to name a few.

Now, I don’t know how others were trained, but I was taught from the beginning that a firearm was for one thing and one thing only: to defend life. Not to defend property.

I remember well how this lesson was delivered after an incident in which I went outside to confront a man trying to steal a lawnmower from the house I live in. I was armed, but I never drew my gun. He ran off, and I was proud of myself.

As it happened, I had a training session two days later, and when I told my teacher that I had done this, instead of being proud of me, he chewed me out for a good half hour.

He said, “I’m teaching you to defend one thing, and that’s your life. You are NOT to use a gun to defend property, EVER. Property can be replaced. Your life can’t. I need you to promise me you will never do such a thing again if I am going to continue teaching you, because that is not what this is about.”

Those words made an impact; I remember them like they were said yesterday. That same week, a Williamson County deputy was killed in his back yard by two thieves in the process of stealing tools from a shed. He went out to investigate, duty pistol in hand, and that was the end of that.

I often think about what my former teacher said that day, especially during the holidays when obviously so many of us are turning our hard-earned, carefully-saved money into gifts. I’m curious to hear how TTAG readers protect themselves during the holidays, and also your thoughts on the defense of life vs. defense of property question.

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    • His name was Brian McRae. He was my second teacher after my first one retired. I don’t think he teaches anymore, but I’ll always be grateful for what I learned from him. He talked to me at length that day about how important it is to think of all the people to whom your life matters, and to make your choices from that perspective.

    • My response about Elaines’ list:

      1) Only window shop during the holiday time of year. Do the touchy/feely; then order and have the item(s) shipped.
      1a)The holiday season usually occurs during the same date/time every year; shop ahead of time instead of waiting on that *deal* for items that are in limited supply.

      2) Standing on a line, for what!? Seriously. Same goes for carrying large sums of cash.
      3) Parking lot(s) and/or available parking; see 1a) above.
      4) Out of town visiting, leaving abode unattended, have your insurance up-to-date; and/or update as needed.
      5) Credit cards, most financial institutions have you covered for/from fraud/theft.

      Employing the above leaves more brain-space for that elusive –situational awareness.
      Not rocket science. Perhaps a lifestyle adjustment (for some), may be needed.

  1. So if I’m armed and approached by a robber who wants my property, I’m just supposed to hand it over because my property isn’t worth drawing my weapon?

      • “Is your property worth dying over?”

        There is *zero* guarantee the crook won’t eliminate you as a witness to his actions…

      • Just because you surrender completely doesn’t mean they won’t kill you anyway.

        And if they’re engaging in armed robbery, they’ve made the decision to kill people to get what they want. If you don’t stop them, they will kill somebody eventually.

        • San, most criminals are stupid and point their guns in a way to be threatening which is a foot or two, sometimes just inches, from the victim’s face. It is very possible to use your off-hand to control the perp’s gun pointed away from your body. This is part of the reason why you NEED to practice and be able to one-hand draw. Most defense situations will be within whispering distance. You need to know how to use your offhand to keep distance for you to get shots off or to grasp the perp’s gun.

      • The whole deal is a personal choice. Be alert to possible situations which might get out of hand and could be life threatening. Have a plan of how you would respond to a threat prior to that situation. Be mentally and physically prepared to carry out your plan. And, be prepared to face civil possibly criminal charges for your actions.
        Use common sense, have a realistic approach to life and for the love of all that is holy, only use a gun as a last resort.

      • It was sarcastic towards those who think someone trying to steal from you isn’t a threat to you or someone else’s life. A surprised burglar could go homicidal, a robber in your face could go homicidal, and a couple of guys ripping off a cop’s lawncare gear definitely went homicidal.

        Attack POTG…get what you get, right?

        Did crooks not know what they were risking when signed up to be a crook?

        • Thank you for the reply. I thought your original post was sarcasm; had to be sure, before I mistakenly started a fire,

    • Not stopping petty crime only encourages more petty crime. The guy that successfully steals your lawnmower will come back for more stuff if you don’t stop him. And the next time he comes back he may be coming for you. London has decriminalized shoplifting and a similar thing is happening at many large and small towns in this country. In London, the cops ain’t coming if the theft is below $200 with the result that stores and store owners are on their own when thugs appear to clean them out. Recently a friend in an up-scale suburb in this country reported that the local cops have stopped responding to theft-in-progress calls. Instead they direct the victims to report the theft to their insurance company. The cops ain’t comin’.

  2. Sorry, MINE! Just like wild animals, you can’t allow feeding. A feed thug is a dead thug. Allowing theft leads to bolder bad habits.

    • I agree. Besides, your property is your life in a certain sense. Since most people have to work a number of hours to acquire the property or to replace stolen property, the thief is essentially stealing a part of your life. It’s up to you to decide if the risk of defending this part of your life is worth it. There are benefits to yourself and those you care about to not making it easy for criminals.

  3. Was just a mass shooting reported in Denver, 5points area, near Coors Field. Is today some weird psycho day or what?

  4. There are good arguments on both sides of this. That’s why I wanted to hear from others.

    Agreed that it’s teaching aggressors the wrong thing to not resist.
    Also agreed that being there for your family Christmas dinner would mean a lot more to your family than that new TV.

    • This is a personal decision which can be impacted by various things like the value of the property (ie, what if it is your family dog, or your life savings, just withdrawn, rather than your old TV), the legal situation (ie, in TX it is legal to shoot someone at night if it’s the only way to prevent his stealing your property, while in other states it is illegal), etc. There is also a potential psychological price many pay for taking another person’s life, even when completely justified (for example, in combat in wartime, if it was “him or you”). Even in a justified shooting/killing, the price in social and financial terms may well be extreme. So it isn’t just the monetary value of the property itself that has to be considered. I disagree with your teacher, if only because I agree with General MacArthur’s statement that “No generality is worth a damn, including this one.”
      On the other hand, this isn’t something that can reasonably be decided in the heat of the moment; it needs to be thought out, at least in general, beforehand. While I disagree with your teacher’s blanket statement in principle, my personal decision has generally been that I wouldn’t risk killing someone over almost any of my possessions. I can at least imagine exceptions, however.

  5. It all comes down to context. An armed robber IS threatening your life. If he/she has the drop on you…well they’re getting all I got. Once they’re leaving, if the threat is over there’s no point in drawing your weapon (assuming you still have one).

    • Exactly. Whatever they’re playing at, threatening my life is a solid way to ensure I either end that threat or die trying. I acquiesced to demands outside my best interests once at the tender age of 16, and here I am now in my mid 30’s living with PTSD and the agony of knowing my response would have been had I known then what I know now. Giving into unrighteous demands taught me death is preferable to the ensuing 18 months I went thru. On a side note, all this training and wise mentors is baffling to me. The beauty of a handgun and self defense is it’s a pretty straightforward point and kill interface. Is the author learning how to clear rooms or operate operationally? First and last time I tried a gun handling class I learned the money is better spent on ammo and gas to my shooting spot than the blowhard throwing out how to handle these highly tailored hypothetical situations.

  6. NOTHING changes for me…head on a swivel,at the ready and aware. My holiday shopping is already over.

  7. If you have lived your life without any property worth risking your life over or even worth defending from theft, then you have lived a life devoid of responsibility and full of privilege.
    Be extremely grateful, but I pity you for it.

    • This i work for everything i’ve ever had and guess what if you want to take it you better be ready to kill me… insurance isn’t free somebody who will let somebody take everything they have isn’t much of a man

  8. Hopefully all.they want is a lawnmower. A poor woman in South Africa even offered to fuck her car jackers and they killed her anyway.
    If you presume to know the limits of what criminals are after or up to that makes you a mind reader.
    Maybe after they take your tools from the shed they will kill their next victim out of spite.

    • @GS

      Yep. I was just in that part of the world this summer. People are poor there and very few people own cars, so they are very high value items, especially 4x4s. And it is much more common for the thieves to kill the owner during the carjacking than to simply take the car.

      I think it’s a complex question that has deep roots. If someone doesn’t have much, taking what they have could have such a serious impact that it well may be worth fighting for. But even if they have more there is absolutely the possibility that they will be emboldened by a lack of resistance. And maybe even return to do more harm as happened to this woman in Canada who experienced a home invasion.

      • That is absolute fact. I’ve spent a career doing varing jobs in the criminal justice field. Criminals prey on the weak and they absolutely do return to people and places they’ve successfully robbed/raped/killed before. That’s why gas stations that get to be known as a “stop and rob” earn such a reputation.

  9. “As it happened, I had a training session two days later, and when I told my teacher that I had done this, instead of being proud of me, he chewed me out for a good half hour.“

    I very much disagree with the trainer here and this line of thought. Not in a billy badass shoot at anyone who trespasses kinda way, but in a completely logical way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking action to prevent having your property being abused or stolen, especially when your livelyhood may depend depend on said property. What you did, when you confronted the lawn mower their was perfectly fine. You should take things into consideration when doing so, to not end up like that deputy. Taking into account the fact that it’s dark or there could be more then one opponent is a factor. However, rolling over and just letting thieves take property is a good way to get it to happen to you again. Criminals pray on the weak, and they can and DO return to houses and neighborhoods where they’ve been successful before. You can look up the data on it, it’s just like with bears or other animals. They also grow more emboldened with each successful run. Statistically If you’re the victim of a crime once, you are exponentially more likely to be the victim of that same crime again. I’m of the opinion that you should always make it as difficult as possible for someone to commit a crime, any crime against you. Criminals don’t like hard targets.

    • @New

      Yep. Exactly. It’s not that simple. It took me a long time of thinking about his points to understand why he was upset with me. At the same time, I totally got his point that a freaking lawnmower was not worth risking my life, especially since at the time I was a new firearm owner and absolutely didn’t understand all the things I needed to know about situational assessment. The guy was super high on something too, which was another level of ignorance on my part, not knowing what I could be dealing with. I think I was lucky that night, and I’m a lot more cautious now, but I’ve also done a lot more training since then to enable me to “think through” better and faster, too.

      I guess that what it ultimately is is that when you hear weird stuff outside your house, or see someone near your vehicle, you have to – to some degree – assume worst case scenario while still retaining some ability to think through it. That is not easy to do.

  10. If someone threatens me with a weapon and demands my property, that is a credible threat of imminent death or grievous bodily harm. Therefore, I am going to do everything possible to eliminate* that threat at the best possible time using the best possible tactics. I am defending my life at that point, not my property. Any appearance of allowing my attacker to take my property is simply a ruse that I am using to try and gain a tactical advantage of some sort.

    Now, if I stumble upon one or more burglars who are trying to steal my stuff (from my car, yard, or home), I am absolutely going to try and drive them off if it appears reasonably wise to do so. Note that going into my back yard in the dark without any idea of how many burglars there are or where they might be is not reasonably wise in my opinion. In that type of situation, I would most likely hole-up in my home in a strong defensive position and wait for neighbors or the police to show up and sweep my yard from the outside.

    * My statement of eliminating the threat was not code for killing my attacker. Rather, it was plain English for eliminating the threat. My objective is simply preserving my life, nothing more and nothing less. I have no preconceived notion nor goal as to whether or not my attacker is killed, seriously injured, or uninjured.

    • @uncommon

      Yup, that is what my teacher advised: Call the cops and hole up in the house. Let them come to you if they’re going to come. Don’t go to them under any circumstances.

      I do think this gets complicated by the fact that property crimes are way way low on the roster of active police officers. They’re generally understaffed and dealing with so much other live stuff happening that your stolen lawnmower is not going to be at the top of the list ever. I can see how people get frustrated with that and start taking things into their own hands, not that this is a wise thing to do.

      If money was unlimited it’d probably be ideal to have a two tier police force – one that responds to things like wellness checks, cats in trees, property crime after the perps have left the scene etc. – and one that responds to “it’s live and on NOW” situations. But no one wants to pay for that.

    • Bingo. A threat to kill or harm you over your property is still a threat to kill or harm you.

      A theft remotely is not. React appropriately.

  11. I work an 8 to 5 job. I literally trade the limited hours I have on this Earth for dollars. When you steal from me you aren’t just taking my stuff, you are taking all the time I traded to purchase that stuff.

    My attitude might be different if I didn’t have to bust my ass to earn everything I own. I have zero respect for someone who isn’t willing to work for what they need or want, and I’m willing to fight them for it.

    • This guy gets it.. f you and f you stealing my stuff you didn’t just steal my stuff you are taking time from my kids and wife and my life…

  12. My ‘stuff’ is worthless in the grand scheme of things but that ‘stuff’ represents hours of my life spent aquiring it legally, through hard work and smart financial management. The only way I’m giving it up without a fight to some worthless POS who thinks they can just take whatever they want is if I’m at a severe tactical disadvantage (lowlife already drew on me or has some other insurmountable advantage). Lethal force is still a last resort but it’s CERTAINLY not off the options list.

  13. Protect myself… I void my bowels and play dead – – -I have nothing of monetary value that is worth unleashing the fury of a possum on…

  14. I thought this was supposed to be about situational awareness during the holidays…sure took a turn in a different direction. The topic could have been interesting…

    • It went there because Elaine told her lawnmower story and instructor response. That had little to do with shopping malls.
      Around this time of the year our entitled fellow voters go “shopping” for the holidays at other people’s homes.
      Apparently it’s a score if they are still outside. Hopefully they stay there.

    • @Eric

      Here’s mine:

      —If you have to go to a big box or mall, go during the day. Avoid going after dark and especially close to closing time.

      —If you know you’re going to be buying big stuff, bring a portable luggage cart or dolly so you can manage it back to the car with one hand.

      —Keep your property well lit and put interior lights on a varied timer if you go out of town. Have a friend or neighbor check in every couple of days if possible.

      —Before leaving shops and stores, make sure all wallets and purses are zipped, everything tucked away securely, and if possible secured against your body.

      —Check around and under your car in parking lots. Yes, under. There was a guy some years ago here who hid under cars with a knife and cut people’s Achilles before grabbing their stuff and running off.

      —If you must shop when it’s dark, park somewhere well lit.

      —If there’s anyone weird lurking around a parking lot, get security (if there is any) or another person to accompany you to your car. There’s power in numbers.

  15. Just a reminder; this writer is a member of a political party that opposes concealed carry laws and national reciprocity. So, in this case situational awareness means that if you are in a democratically controlled area , be aware you’re going to be unarmed.

    • @Sprocket

      As I’ve said to you before, reciprocity is a nice idea, but I don’t see how it can work when you look at how it would have to play out.

      I also carry, every day, as do many other liberals, so you’re wrong on that too.

      • As someone who drives all over the country, reciprocy would be FAR more than a ‘nice idea’! Aside from one sides idiotic idea that blood would flow freely in the streets if the lowest common denominator CCW holder was allowed to carry wherever they traveled, it shouldn’t be any more difficult than honoring any other state issued license (drivers, marriage or otherwise). But that’s certainly a topic for another discussion…

      • Here is how it needs to work.
        We get the coveted background check the Left is crying for and that labels us law abiding people. At that point the Constitution is clear we can bear arms. Cops might not like the fact us poor folk are also armed but if they can carry guns to protect themselves so should we.

        It’s not about raising the standard for concealed carry to the highest restrictive standard, it’s about establishing a baseline free from political correctness and reducing the infringement to it.

        I’m glad you carry every day, Elaine. I live in a may-issue-if-I-spend-a-fortune-and-time-jumping-through-hoops state that gives more respect to out of state carriers than in state holders of non resident permits from the same states. As if I’m not trustworthy unless I follow a bunch of more silly rules.
        PA’s now convicted AG lobbed off nonresident carry with a stroke of a pen. So the S.A. awareness is limited to a finely tuned group of people who managed to comply with rules that do nothing to protect anyone. Other states won’t let Vermonters carry because their state doesn’t issue permits. So Vermont trusts them but not other locales.

        It’s high effing time for our civil servants to stop mistrusting us. They have shown we can’t trust them.

        • @Vic and @GS

          I mean, it would make things easier for everyone. But it would thoroughly piss off states who have been given the go ahead to make their own restrictions.

          We’ve been trying for reciprocity in mental health for a long time. Still haven’t gotten it. Know why? Because those of us who went to better, more expensive training programs and do better work because of those programs don’t want someone who did the bare minimum at a crappy school having the same professional ‘cred’ we went through a lot to earn.

          From what I’ve seen reciprocity ALWAYS is going to default to the “most training and requirements” standard because if you don’t do that, the people with the best training and credentials will not sign onto it, because it will cheapen the meaning of that training and those credentials. And if the best people you have will not sign on and in fact support it, it’s dead. Because they are the best representatives of that thing.

          I can’t see how it would be any different for firearms. Mental health is popular and not even remotely as divisive as discussions about guns, and we still can’t get it to happen. And if it defaults to highest standard, this puts an onerous and unfair burden on people who have less money, or live in areas where they can’t get to credentialing programs or training.

      • Sprocket is not wrong. If you vote for Democrats, you vote for civilian disarmament. It clearly says so in their party platform. Liberals fight nail and tooth for every “commonsense” law that restricts our constitutionally protected human right to keep and bear arms. Anything that makes gun ownership harder, more expensive, riskier and ultimately rarer. They fiercely oppose any bill that may give us some crumbs of the proverbial cake back.

        Fact that you personally (and other Liberals you know) own and carry firearms doesn’t change anything. It just shows your hypocrisy and/or cognitive dissonance.

        Unless you actively work inside your party to get it off the anti-freedom horse, you are the enemy, no matter how many guns you own or how much training you have.

  16. If you’re in a gun free zone , city or state your S.A. consists of looking for hiding places, exits and huddling up near a cop.if you can find one. The lions will feed on the slowest and weakest antelope so don’t be one.
    The crazies, criminals and terrorists already know this and the Democrat party accommodates their supporters.

  17. Phone + internet + brown truck = Ho Ho Ho.

    IF I go shopping it’s planned run for few items when stores open in daylight.

  18. The whole deal is a personal choice. Be alert to possible situations which might get out of hand and could be life threatening. Have a plan of how you would respond to a threat prior to that situation. Be mentally and physically prepared to carry out your plan. And, be prepared to face civil possibly criminal charges for your actions.
    As a firearms instructor and a license to carry instructor in Texas, I advise our students to use common sense, have a realistic approach to life defense and for the love of all that is holy, only use a gun as a last resort.

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