Avoid, Escape, Survive: How to Avoid Danger, Escape a Deadly Threat and Become a Good Witness

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Concealed carry is about security before it’s about shooting. In fact, in a best-case scenario, there isn’t any shooting at all. These are a few of the best ways to avoid the kind of nightmare that shootings bring into your life. You’re going to keep your loved ones and yourself safe by making the right decisions, and the time to start thinking about making those right decisions is right now.

Situational awareness, though an excellent concept and practice, is just part of an effective personal-protection plan. Anyone who would smugly assert that “situational awareness will always keep you out of trouble” is either very lucky, very inexperienced or a liar (and possibly all three). Without the necessary tools and skills to act on it, situational awareness will only alert you to when you are about to be attacked and allow you to think about how badly you wish you’d decided to carry a gun for a few more seconds.

Sometimes situational awareness helps you avoid a disaster altogether. Sometimes it alerts you to when and how you’ll have to act to prevent a disaster, and sometimes it takes a backseat to moving, watching or shooting. The following are a few pointers on how to keep out of harm’s way and, if you wind up in harm’s way, how to sidestep or stop it as effectively as possible.

Concealed carry is all about crisis mitigation and emergency lifesaving. However, the main goal of any responsibly armed American should be to avoid violence whenever possible. Violent encounters make for losers all around; even if you emerge alive and victorious, your life is irreparably changed, and you may be physically or mentally injured after having no choice but to employ deadly force. This is why violence is best dealt with in the following fashion: Avoid, Escape, Survive.

Avoid

If possible, don’t be where violence is happening. This means trusting the hair on the back of your neck and that all-too-uncommon quality we like to call “common sense.” If it seems like there’s about to be violence, get out. If it seems like the kind of place where violence is more likely to happen than in other places, don’t go there.

You will almost always have control over where you have to go and how long you have to stay there. If you follow the old cardinal rule, “Don’t go stupid places with stupid people and do stupid things,” your chances of ever facing a deadly threat will be very low. “Very low” isn’t “zero” though. This is why we plan ahead.

Scan for exits and cover whenever you enter a new situation. And practice landing hits on target in case it all goes sideways.

Escape

If violence is taking place, you need to escape as quickly and effectively as possible. Part of this is being proactive; when you enter a room or building, immediately scan for exits and cover, meaning anything that will actually stop a bullet. Understand that you may have to make a hasty exit and game out the best way to do so. Understand and internalize that escaping — what the more cynical folks might call running away — is a far better option than shooting it out.

Unless doing so would result in death or great bodily harm, it is always better (as a private citizen) to escape violence than to fight it. Escape — removing yourself from the scene of an attack that’s about to be perpetrated upon you — should always be “Plan A.” That said, the first-line plan sometimes falls through, which is why we carry firearms.

Survive

Whether you can escape the violence or not, your goal is to survive and to wake up the next day as healthy as possible. Your survival may depend on your ability to quickly run to a flight of stairs, or it may depend on your ability to spot trouble brewing before it boils over. Your survival may rely on your ability to put bullets exactly where you need them to go while under duress, or it may rely on your ability to keep a cool head and get your gun out and up as quickly as you can. All of these skills and abilities require attention, training and alertness, all of which are factors that are mostly under your control.

You carry that firearm so you will not be subject to attack by violent predators. Between your training on how to move, how to think and how to handle that firearm, you can and will survive.

Ask any cop and he or she will tell you that successful career criminals follow patterns. Ask any big-city cop and he or she will tell you that street criminals follow patterns to an even greater extent than other criminals, especially when it comes to victim selection.

In the *February/March 2015 issue of Concealed Carry Magazine, our own Kevin Jamison, Esq. compared a criminal sizing up his victim to a shark giving something a “bump bite” — lightly nudging and maybe nibbling at something he comes across to see if it’s worth taking larger bites of. Sharks do this simply because everything they see in the ocean is potential food; the only question they really have is whether the number of bites necessary to move the item from swimming to digesting will be worth the effort.

*Become a USCCA Member now to enjoy the full backlog of Concealed Carry Magazine!

As you’ve probably come to expect, Jamison is absolutely correct. Violent criminals aren’t like you or me; I hate to use blanket terms like “you or me,” but since you’re likely the kind of person who takes concealed carry classes and applies for permits, you’ve pretty well distinguished yourself from our criminal class. The outlaws of this country have literally zero empathy for you or others; if they did, they wouldn’t make their livings threatening strangers with death for cash and cellphones. They consider armed and strong-arm robbery honest trades, and they will think nothing of murdering you if it is to their advantage. Oh, they’ll sometimes say they don’t want to have to … but that disinclination from murder is related to the longer prison sentence if apprehended, not because they think murdering people is wrong.

Threat Detection

A young woman clutches the shoulder strap of a large brown purse as she walks alone through an empty parking structure. A figure dressed all in black is emerging from the shadows behind her field of vision.

Situational awareness can help you avoid or escape potentially dangerous situations. At least, early detection of a threat will give you more time to react.

One of the anti-gun media’s most successful weapons is the ability to portray self-defense-oriented gun owners as heartless psychopaths. They will literally exploit the corpses of children to do so. They will compare me, a private citizen who elects to carry a defensive weapon every day, to rapid mass murderers. This type of misrepresentation of defensive gun owners is compounded by the fact that one of the most common manners in which violent criminals execute muggings in this country is through faux panhandling. This leaves the armed citizen in an extremely dangerous bind — physically and socially.

Now, as we so often say, situational awareness is the cornerstone of a personal-protection plan. If you’re aware of your surroundings, that means you’ll be scanning for potential threats, which means watching all of the people in your general area. While this might sound daunting, it comes easily after a conscious effort is applied. Not to compare life in the United States to wartime, but I once heard a Vietnam combat veteran sum up the human’s natural abilities for survival quite well:

One does not have to learn how to survive in the jungle; those things are already there. And when you’re in combat and you’re in the jungle, then those instincts come back. They’ve always been there.

This is not to say that you need to look at every person as if he or she is about to try to kill you. This is to say that it is mentally possible for you to remove the blinders that a lifetime of personal electronics and a general lack of danger have given you. After you begin to consciously watch and keep tabs on everyone in your immediate area, you’ll find that less and less effort is needed as time goes on. Eventually, it’s something that you’ll do unconsciously. Attaining this level is easier for those who have lived in a large city for most of their lives and for those who are accomplished hunters. And I don’t suppose I have to say that combat veterans and law enforcement officers usually possess the skills at higher levels than others.

Immediately Reaching Out for a Handshake

This technique is extremely dangerous and is most common when the street person in question intends to physically feel out his possible victim in an attempt to discern whether it’s worth the risk of him and his associates initiating the attack. This is an especially common tactic in high-stakes muggings during which a group of men target adult males who, though typically more difficult to overpower than the elderly or females, usually have a larger quantity of cash on their persons.

There are several reasons why these high-stakes muggers will try their hardest to shake hands with you. For one, as soon as the handshake begins, they’ve immediately tied up your dominant hand and, even worse, have a hold of your dominant hand with their dominant hand. (They usually run on the assumption that everyone is right-handed, as the vast majority of the population is.) The next step in the process is to squeeze and see what kind of pressure they get back. If the hands of the target feel strong and rough, they are much less likely to engage or, if they do, the violence will be significantly swifter and more intense.

The last time I experienced this old chestnut was in Las Vegas. A group of four men simultaneously stepped out from a bus shelter of sorts and asked if I knew how to get to a hotel. The first man to make contact immediately stuck his hand out to shake mine as the other three fanned out to my two sides and rear. Under most circumstances, this is what doctors refer to as “being royally screwed.” Unarmed, I got my hands up, pulled my elbows in toward my sides and quickly moved to my southwest, breaking the plane formed by the rear and left-side men and turning in to face the group I could sense I was likely about to get to know a lot better. They began to reposition for the same plan of attack: One man at each compass point.

Fortunately, I’d continued walking ahead of a group of three friends who then walked around the corner and immediately closed on the group of strangers. This resulted in said strangers’ vociferous denial of intentions no one had accused them of having and their quick dispersal. I played it off to my friends as nothing, but the fact is I knew just as well as the four criminals did that I was about one second away from one of the longer minutes of my life.

The Present

Since the vast majority of times when someone hands us something it’s something we want, we average Americans will readily accept anything offered to us. (The next step is that we look down at it, studying it in an attempt to understand why we want it.)

Tricking you into physically taking and holding something draws your attention to whatever you’ve just been given and gets your eyes down, off of your attacker. Depending on the size of the object, it might also occupy both of your hands, thus leaving you exposed to an attack.

The first time I experienced this ploy was in Puerto Vallarta. I was sitting at an outdoor bar on the beach when a disheveled, shirtless man approached the couple at the table next to me. The shirtless man was holding a small bouquet of flowers with a note attached to the bound stems. He handed the flowers to the seated man — who had the table between himself and the beach — and, speaking very quickly in broken English, he asked the guy for a cigarette. As the man at the table simultaneously tried to get hold of his cigarettes with his left hand, accept the bouquet with his right and read what was on the attached note with his eyes, the shirtless thief simply scooped up the man’s phone, sunglasses and what appeared to be a small stack of peso notes and fled about as quickly as I’ve ever seen a barefoot human run. (Ironically, the victim’s smokes were unharmed.) Now, in this case, the attack was nonviolent, but stop and think for a moment: As completely occupied as he was, how vulnerable to assault was the tourist who was lucky enough to only lose his phone and shades that day?

I’ll tell you how lucky. Handing someone a note or other attention-grabbing device is as old as premeditated violent crime. I’ve even seen cops fall for this trick. They approach an individual who they suspect is breaking the law (usually alcohol- or drug-related), and the individual tells them, “Ah yes, I have something I need to show you. Thank God you’re here, officers.” Then he hands the cops a note, and in the split second the LEOs are no longer focused on the suspect, he’s off like a shot. (I will refrain from naming the two different agencies I’ve seen this one work on, as I am certain there were rather intense shift meetings the next morning.)

Brother, Can You Spare It All?

Some, or all, of the aforementioned techniques will be used in conjunction to execute the robbery, but until the first order is issued or blow is landed, it will look to the untrained eye as though nothing more nefarious than panhandling is happening. Americans are a generous sort, and since we as a people have been forcibly socialized to never turn a blind eye to a beggar, violent criminals have done what they always do: exploit the good nature of honest citizens to their own ends, maiming or murdering in the process if they deem it necessary.

A scruffy man reaches his left hand toward the camera as if asking for a handout. His back is against a concrete wall and the trees behind him are out of focus.

Robbers sometimes pretend to be panhandling in order to get closer to their victims and attack from ambush.

Faux panhandling is the preferred method of affecting a robbery because it begins with a “defensible honest question,” meaning if violent criminals decide to abort the attack at the last second, they can tell police that they were simply panhandling or asking for a short-term loan to get back to community college. If they decide to continue, the “panhandling” might manifest itself in a request for money, a cigarette, a light or a ride. More importantly, it will likely be a combination of all of the techniques mentioned above.

The biggest factor in the panhandling ploy is that if the exchange turns violent and you are able to effectively defend yourself, attackers will tell responding police that they were just minding their own business asking strangers for money, and some crazed, gun-wielding madman drew on them. (This is why we here at CCM are so adamant that if you ever, under any circumstances, have to draw your weapon, you need to call 911 and report the incident as soon as possible. The first to initiate police contact will almost certainly be viewed by the legal system as the victim.)

Since it is extremely important that you establish what’s happening for what it is — a violent crime in progress being perpetrated on you — vocalization is very important. Tell panhandlers that you are not interested in anything they have to offer and will not be giving them any money. If they continue to press you, keep moving away from them and state in no uncertain terms that you feel threatened and that they need to get away from you immediately. As with any other potentially violent encounter, it’s far better to avoid it than to win it. With luck, your assertive refusal to be involved in the goings-on will be enough to get them to try their luck with a different victim.

Avoiding Confrontation

Concealed Carry Magazine Executive Editor Kevin Michalowski maneuvers as he brings a pistol up to fire with both hands

Keep moving in a dangerous situation. Get off the X and don’t present a stationary target.

Despite the rolled eyes and disapproving stares from oh-so-compassionate individuals in the area, never feel bad about backing away from panhandlers and clarifying your situation. If they’re friendly, you can make up for it later. If they’re not, you might have just saved your own life. Whenever strangers who aren’t uniformed law enforcement officers approach you in public, there’s a series of actions that you must take in order to be able to avoid a violent confrontation and, failing that, stay alive:

  1. Get off the X — don’t be a stationary target
  2. Turn to see everyone else in the area — watch for someone watching YOU
  3. Say you don’t have any money — keep saying this as many times as you have to
  4. Tell them you’re in a hurry — keep moving
  5. Be ready to defend yourself — mentally prepare for possible violence

Whether or not to give money to destitute beggars is entirely up to you. More often than not, religious beliefs and obligations dictate an individual’s behavior when panhandlers ask for a handout. Regardless of how you feel about alms for the beggars, remember this: If the individual initiating contact with you is healthy and energetic enough to approach you quickly for a handshake and dexterous enough to move so swiftly as to never really seem to be in the same place for more than a second or so, what’s kept him or her from getting work? More importantly, what seems more likely: He or she is in an honest-to-God tough spot, like the man or woman sitting nearly motionless next to a cardboard sign that reads “STARVING,” or that this person is bump-biting you … and seeing if you’re worth the effort?

A young woman in a gray T-shirt and black pants holds her head with her left hand and motions with her right while providing a statement to an emergency worker wearing a neon green safety vest. He is taking notes with a pen held in his gloved right hand. Police caution tape is strung across the background.

Remember specific information about a suspicious person so that you may provide a better report to emergency responders and police.

There are times when the greatest service you can offer is to be a good witness. This means you should take in as much of what’s going on as possible without actually getting involved. A prime example of this could be when you’ve contacted law enforcement — and they are en route — but there isn’t a clear and unavoidable threat of death or great bodily harm. This is also extremely important when you are rendering aid to a victim of a violent attack; not to be melodramatic, but you may be the last one who speaks to this individual for a while, and many victims don’t remember as much after waking up in a hospital bed as they do before they lose consciousness. If you’re in a position to collect information to relay to law enforcement, you’re going to want to keep the following in mind:

Protect Yourself

Just because you’re trying to be a good witness doesn’t mean that the situation won’t turn dangerous. As you observe a situation, never lose sight of the fact that you and your loved ones are your highest priority in the area; if the threats in the area escalate to the point that you are no longer in complete safety, get out.

Look for Specifics

You’re going to be looking for information that will be useful to law enforcement. Vehicle descriptions are extremely helpful in apprehending violent criminals; you’ll be looking for type and color, number of doors, license plate state and characters, and roof racks, bumper stickers or other identifying marks. When observing a person, do what you can to get down approximate height and weight, ethnicity, hair color and length, presence or absence of facial hair, clothing and jewelry. Remember that height and weight can be extremely difficult to gauge, so look for reference points in rooms and on buildings to help you gauge an individual’s height. Banks, convenience stores and other businesses often have white tapes marked in feet and inches on their door jambs specifically for measuring fleeing attackers; make it a habit to start noticing them now before you might need to.

Listen

Voice and dialect can be extremely important in identifying attackers, as can remembering specific statements they make. There’s a good reason everyone from law enforcement officers to attorneys to Special Forces soldiers all carry notepads and pens: They understand that even with all of their specialized training, no one is capable of remembering everything he or she hears and sees.

Keep Perspective

Bear in mind that you’re not a law enforcement officer; you always have the option of fleeing a dangerous situation. A concealed carry permit does not give you any more responsibility to help others than you had before it was issued and attempting to insert yourself into violent encounters can (and often will) do far more harm than good. Your concealed firearm is for defending your loved ones and yourself against impending, unavoidable death or great bodily harm.

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