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Let me be perfectly clear: these are three things you need to do before you shoot someone who needs shooting. That would be a person or persons who pose an imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm to you and/or yours. I view these three activities as more than simple common sense. They form as an extremely important “pre-flight” check. If you know you’ve done everything you could not to shoot your attacker or attackers, you can drill them with confidence and clarity of mind and, thus, increased accuracy and decreased personal trauma. I reckon that’s a win – win – win – win – lose. So let’s get started . . .

1. Avoid the Threat

At the risk of offering a piercing glimpse into the blindingly obvious, it’s better to avoid a gunfight than to try and win one. Equally clear: you have to perceive danger to avoid it. And yet most people—even people carrying a concealed weapon—are oblivious to potential trouble. They walk around in what’s called Condition White. Hello? If a switchblade opens in a forest and you didn’t hear it, trust me, it really exists.

So switch on your radar.

The easiest way to activate and hone the threat avoidance skill: think like a perp. If I was going to mug or rape someone, where would I hide? How would I approach the victim? Would I rob this store? Practice this thinking often enough and it becomes instinctive; you’ll scan potential hot spots for trouble without undue fear or trepidation.

Strangely enough, that’s the easy part . . .

Humans are task-oriented pack animals. We spend our whole lives making plans with and for others, and then following them to achieve common goals. While most folks are excellent at on-the-fly re-scheduling, the main tendency is to keep going. To keep heading in the same direction. To persist in our overall goal, no matter what.

Just as a driver sipping on a hot coffee is loathe to drop it on their lap or floor when they need to make an emergency maneuver, most people are unwilling to mentally shred their plans in the face of a security threat. They convince themselves that the danger is low-level. Or that the goal is too important to abandon. Until it isn’t. And then it’s too late.

You must make safety your top priority. There is no bag of groceries, no restaurant meal, no business appointment, no social engagement, no kids’ play-date that’s worth your life. If you see trouble, stop doing what you want to do and start thinking about what you need to do. Which is avoidance. Failing that . . .

2. Escape

As Dave Edmunds sang, you got yourself in (however inadvertently, although that’s not in the song), now get yourself out. At some point, a looming threat becomes a “real” threat. At that point, avoidance morphs into something altogether more pressing. It’s time to bugger off.

Ask any fan of prison movies: the best escapes are pre-planned. Millions of hotel guests check the escape map on the back of their hotel doors before they go to sleep, but never think to scan a meeting room, restaurant or airport waiting lounge for the nearest exits. The good news: once you’ve devised an escape plan you can file it away and get on with what you’re doing. That said . . .

Now you’ve got to think like a perp to detect trouble, assess the threat level if it arises (or seems like it’s arising), try to avoid the problem AND have a plan for escaping. Dynamically. In real time.

At this point, many people say screw it, it’s not worth it. I’m not a gang banger. I live in the suburbs or a relatively safe city, not a war zone. Why would I want to walk around in a state of perpetual paranoia? I’d rather accept the risk, don’t worry, be happy.

Fair enough. I could say that the more you practice, the easier the process becomes. You can walk, chew gum, smell the flowers, talk to your beloved, scan for danger and plot an escape all at the same time. Happily. But if you think I’m delusional, and prefer to live the oblivious lifestyle, God bless America.

One caveat. Don’t get to thinking that you can switch on your scan and plan process when things suddenly become “serious” (e.g., late at night returning to your car in an urban environment). Not to put too fine a point on it, this shit takes practice. What’s more, perps don’t smell fear. They see it. They read your body language like a book. Well, like you read a book. They know when you’re on the edge of panic. And that makes you weak.

Anyway, RUN! Oh wait. You haven’t exercised in years? That’s not good. In that case, the best way to escape a threat is to put something between you and it. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to keep a car between you and Mr. Bad Guy when you have to. Throwing objects in the way of your pursuer as you leave is a useful sub-strategy (it’s WAY more effective than Hollywood would have you believe).

Of course, there are times when you can’t escape. You might have failed to detect the threat early enough. You may have family or friends by your side. You might not be fit enough. In that case, you don’t have a choice. At that point . . .

3. Consider a Non-Ballistic Solution

To eliminate a serious threat, you may have to draw your weapon. You may have to shoot your attacker. Or several attackers. Several times. But you don’t want to do that. It’s loud, messy and expensive. It could lead to years of psychological and financial trauma for you and your family. Not to mention a lifetime of looking over your shoulder. If possible, pass before you punt.

Before you draw your gun, consider a Plan C. In some cases, throwing your wallet at the bad guy and THEN running might work. A shouted warning about your firearm could also prevent a violent confrontation. It might be a pepper-spray-worthy situation (should you have a can handy). A simple hard shove might git ‘er done.

The operative words here are “could” and “might.” I’m not going to second guess your actions in a life or death situation—especially when seconds could be the difference between life and death. But rest assured the cops and maybe even a jury will. It’s a good idea to at least think about thinking about what you could do to eliminate a threat short of aerating the bad guy with lead.

After that, it’s chocks away—subject to other strategic concerns and all applicable state, local and federal laws. I know: defending yourself is a complicated business. But no one said staying alive was going to be easy. This much is true: the more you think about how not to shoot a bad guy, the better your odds of leaving your gun holstered and your body unmolested.

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  1. 1 Ability “Do they have the ability (gun, knife etc.) to kill or seriously hurt you or someone else
    2 Opportunity ” Is there a situation where they could to kill or seriously hurt you or someone else.
    3. Jeopardy “Are they pointing the gun at you or someone else”

    Meet the above 3 conditions and your safe to pull the trigger. Other wise you got a lot of splannin to do as Ricky Ricardo would say.

  2. Good advice. All USG Force Protection training stresses escape and evasion rather then confrontation. Always leave yourself an out. Awareness Self training is actually fun. Just think of yourself as Michael Westin/Fiona Glenanne.

  3. I read a story a couple years ago about a guy who was carrying and wasn’t paying attention as he walked out of a local coffee shop. Guy was accosted by a would be mugger with a knife.

    Citizen threw a cup of coffee in the muggers face and proceeded to pull out his pistol. Mugger ran away before receiving some lead to go with the coffee.

  4. Robert, I doubt if those three suggestions will be very popular with your readers. Most of them have too much ego involved to even consider such nonsense.

    How many times have we heard all that macho crap about someone entering a house uninvited is immediately guilty of lethal threat.

    No, I can’t see your average gun enthusiast going for such whimy-ass ideas like those.

    • I think you’re wrong about that. Our Armed Intelligentsia is . . . wait for it . . . intelligent. Intelligent enough to think about what they’re doing before they do it. To not let their emotions get the better of them when the chips are down. More to the point, they don’t want to kill anyone any more than you do.

      Now, are they representative of the general population of gun owners? I would guess yes, in this at least.

      You are also misrepresenting the idea of home defense expressed by TTAG commentators. The ones who consider a home invader “fair game” were talking about bad guys who’d entered their home for criminal purposes. In some states, that is enough for armed preemption. They were not saying they’d execute strangers who’d wandered in off the street (should such a thing occur).

      The funny thing is this: most people in this country have no desire to kill another person. Hence the relative lack of people killing people in a population of hundreds of millions. And the term self-defense as applied to handgun ownership. Which reminds me: assault weapon my ass. Not literally. But I think you know what I mean.

      • I believe the perennial accusations by the “antis” that gun owners are paranoiacs looking for an opportunity to “waste a bad guy,” are actually projections of their own fears of how THEY might act if they became gun owners. (Sorry for the almost run-on!) I’d bet there is a psychological term for it. Ultimately it’s delusion (or perhaps fantasy). It just doesn’t happen. But, I’m glad the worry-warts aren’t gun owners. 🙂

      • Our plan of action, should someone get past the dogs, is for the wife to grab the phone, I grab the gun, we grab the same corner, facing the doorway to our bedroom.

        Running around the house looking for intruders is for experts and I’m not one. However, someone coming through the bedroom door is going be very unhappy.

        When I lived in AZ, I found I was much more restrained in what I might say or do when I carried. And there were a couple of dicey incidents during those times.

    • About 15 years ago (I originally said 10 but time does fly) ago the mother who we shared a nanny with at our house came over in the middle of the night (she was a little goofy) and let herself in to leave some photographs for us. Since we didn’t have a dog at the time the first thing I heard was someone rummaging around downstairs. I came down cautiously with my trusty 45 and guess what? I didn’t shoot her and she never knew that I had a gun with me. (I immediately held it behind me.) People who own firearms are generally a responsibile lot. Probably more responsible than the general population

    • The reason I come to this blog is that I like these egoless and totally legitimate real-world suggestions.

      The truth about guns is that most gun nuts are in fact not nuts. If you don’t realize this you are allowing yourself to be biased by a loud minority, and in fact are perpetuating their point of view.


      • Also it is interesting to note is that being a self-proclaimed liberal involved in shooting sports, I meet a lot of self-proclaimed conservatives, and none of them act like my media tells me they should act. Also, to them, I don’t act anything like their media tells them I should act. In fact, the two groups aren’t nearly as different as we are each led to believe. Divide an conquer? Maybe. Don’t play into it.

        It is very important to the integrity of a blog that the blogger doesn’t simply regurgitate anecdote and conjecture to support preconceived conclusions. That actually undermines democracy in that this kind of artificial replication of a single point of view breaks the law of averages, on which the concept of democracy depends.


    • mikeB302K – your posts have taken on a darker, more antagonistic flavor lately… Are you feeling more jaded than usual?

  5. Robert-

    Great article, great advice. One key ingredient is the laws of the state you live in. In California(my state) we do not have the ‘CASTLE DOCTRINE’, but do have an ‘out clause.’ The out clause is if the threat wants to escape/leave under their own decision, we have to let them. If however, they decide to continue the threat we are well within our rights to defend ourselves. The litmus test would be the entry and exit wounds to the threat. Are they front entry or in the back.

    Additionally, the advice offered in the comments is also very useful. Yes, by all means take care of your health. That will be a critical factor in dealing with the stress of the situation.

  6. Don’t forget that if the threat demands it, the Speed, Surprise, and Violence of Action mantra.

    Great piece. Makes me feel normal for mentally simulating worse case scenarios in my head and what I would do if the crap hit the fan.

  7. No doubt, you put the most important stuff first. And, situational awareness is KEY. Many people ARE walking around in “condition white.” Do a search on Youtube for parking lot assaults and you’ll see plenty of condition white. The book “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin DeBecker is a MUST READ, in my opinion (despite the anti-gun slant at the end).

  8. Very thoughtful article and follow up comments. In Gutmacher’s book of the Florida Gun Laws, he states that the current rate for attorney fees starts at $15K for a perfect case where a person did everything right. The effects of stress are a significant factor as mentioned. Just imagine side stepping all that crap! Good input!!!!

  9. I just wanted to point out that this line of thinking is not just for human threats but also environmental. People enter crowded enclosed spaces all the time without thinking about fire escape routes. Shit can go down fast. Sobering example is The Station nightclub fire in NJ. I don’t recommend watching the video, but it’s out there. A hundred something people dead in 3-5 minutes. It’s haunting.


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