We put a lot of emphasis here on firearms as a way to defend yourself, and I’m a huge proponent of concealed carry for this purpose. However, actually having to use your gun in self-defense should be a last-ditch resort. Once you’ve pulled that trigger, your life (and probably someone else’s) is changed forever, and if you can keep yourself safe without having to go through this, you should.
Knowing a little bit about violence and paying attention to the warning signs that something is developing will go a long way to keeping you safe without having to go to your gun. There are three basics ways to keep yourself safe:
You can avoid violence by simply not being there when it occurs. Bad stuff happens in pretty predictable places. Stay out of those places and your chances of being involved in violence go way down—you’re simply playing the odds by avoiding high-risk areas and situations.
Where are those predicable places? For one, anywhere people are altering their minds with drugs or alcohol. Things start to go haywire when substances are involved, and violence often follows. Second, anywhere there are crushing crowds, particularly of young people, the potential for crime or an out-of-control event skyrockets. Third, tensions are high anywhere people or groups are fighting over territory. This, whether it’s rival gangs or something less serious, often combines with drugs or alcohol to create that area of your town where most of the crime takes place. Don’t go there and your odds of being involved in violence, either directly or as an innocent bystander caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, go way down.
Fourth, violence tends to happen in isolated places with few or no witnesses—dark parking lots and lonely alleys. Fifth, it sounds obvious, but violence happens in the presence of violent people. If your best friend likes to get drunk and swing a pool stick at the first girl who looks at her wrong every Friday night, your chances of getting into a mess when you go out drinking with her are pretty high. Incidentally, the danger factor in all of these situations goes up after dark and into the wee hours of the morning. Didn’t your mom tell you that nothing good happens after midnight?
This isn’t to say you should never go to bars, crowded concerts, or a ball game on the seedy side of town. Life’s about balance. But when you do go to those places, be on extra high alert for signs of trouble, and if you’re not going to practice method number one (Absence), be prepared to practice methods two and three.
You need to learn to spot trouble before it progresses and get the heck out of there before violence develops. Study up on Cooper’s Color Codes and work on your Condition Yellow, and practice thinking like a criminal to help you spot potential problems. Develop a habit of locating the exits and escape routes when you enter a room.
It’s important to pay attention to what those around you are doing. For example, you might be minding your business in the doctor’s waiting room, but what about that patient at the front desk who’s getting more and more agitated with the receptionist because he’s out of his pain pills? If he looks like he’s working himself into a frenzy and gearing up for something, get out.
Example 2: If you step out of a store into a dark, empty parking lot and notice a couple of young men loitering on either side of the door or at random places in the lot, go back in and ask for an escort out to your car. Almost no one loiters in parking lots unless they have nefarious intentions.
Example 3: If you’re down by the stage at a concert and a mosh pit develops (Are mosh pits still a thing? Am I showing my age?), consider bailing. Young people getting more and more adrenalized, jumping and crushing each other to a rhythm, is a recipe for someone getting trampled or groped or worse.
An important element of escaping is knowing when it’s time to do it. Normalcy bias is a real thing, and women don’t like to call attention to themselves or be rude, so we often wait too long to leave or deny that something is wrong. Err on the side of getting out early rather than late.
If something starts going sideways and you’re not in a position to leave, you can try to diffuse the situation before it turns violent. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it starts with failing the criminal’s interview and getting him to decide that you’re not the right victim for him. Be mindful of the 21-foot rule during this process, keeping physical distance between you and a violent actor as much as you’re able.
If you are still a target, or if you’re a bystander to developing social violence you can’t get away from, you might be able to talk your way out of it—but this is risky and has a low success rate. Use your intuition and best judgement to decide if it’s worth trying. And very importantly, realize that as a woman, you’re not likely to threaten or intimidate an experienced criminal. Working on your command presence can help here, but don’t make bluffs or threats that you’re not willing to follow-through on.
If all else fails and violence kicks off—a guy pulls a weapon and demands your wallet or tries to force you into his car or whatever—the time for de-escalation is over. Now your response depends on which type of human predator you’re dealing with. Go read that article. If you’re faced with a process predator and you can’t escape, it’s probably time to draw your gun. If you’re facing a resource predator, you might be able to give him whatever he asked for and make him go away without anyone getting hurt.
Not everything is avoidable, but you should do all you can to keep yourself safe and secure without having to resort to using your firearm in self-defense. If you can avoid violence by absence, escape or de-escalation, you win.