Thoughts on Cooper's Color Code

posted on August 23, 2014
wilson2015_fs.jpg (25)

Years ago, the late Col. Jeff Cooper offered his simple color code system to assist a person when a defensive shooting might be in his immediate future. Interestingly enough, he did not design it for tactical purposes, or even awareness purposes. Rather it was designed to help the armed citizen understand the mindset that must be developed in order to survive a violent criminal attack. For those who are not familiar with it, Cooper's Color Code is as follows...

White: A person is unaware and totally oblivious to what is going on around him.

Yellow: A person is in a relaxed state of awareness, observing the things that are going on around him, and he is aware that he lives in a violent world and may have to take action at any time.

Orange: A person observes a possible threat and stays focused on that potential threat until he can determine if it is real and if he must take action.

Red: A person observes that the threat is real and he is immediately prepared to take action, including the use of deadly force, depending upon the actions of his attacker ("if he does X, then I will do "Y" is the way Cooper described it).

We often tell each other that we operate 24/7 in Condition Yellow. Much of that is just wishful thinking. Too often, we let our guard down when we are at home or in another peaceful, comfortable setting. When I'm walking down the busy sidewalk of a big city it is a whole lot easier for me to be in Condition Yellow than when sitting on my back porch in the middle of the Davis Mountains. There is just not as much going on around me.

Col. Cooper, himself, admitted that he found it very difficult to remember to be in Condition Yellow when he was on the grounds of his beloved Gunsite. Regardless, Condition Yellow is a goal that we must strive for and work to attain. Awareness actually has many levels and we should work to stay at the highest level possible.

Condition Orange suggests that we have spotted someone who is not acting right. And we are going to keep an eye on them as long as we are in the area, or they are nearby. We might determine that the best thing to do is just leave the area of this potential threat, and we may never know their true intentions because we have left before they can make contact.

Finally, Condition Red does not mean that we will shoot the threat. It may not even mean that we will have drawn our handgun. But it means that we are mentally prepared to do both if the threat doesn't behave. We have set a mental trigger (if he does "X", then I will do "Y") and the rest is up to how the threat chooses to act. We are prepared to stop the threat if that is what's necessary and we know exactly what will set all of that into motion.

Cooper's Color Code system is not complex and folks should not try to make it so. But it is the backbone of the Combat Mindset and is a great help in mentally preparing the defensive shooter to take the necessary action to protect himself and his family.


Mossberg 500 and 590 shotguns
Mossberg 500 and 590 shotguns

Mossberg 500 and 590: America’s Defensive Shotguns

Since 1961, the O.F. (Oscar Frederick) Mossberg company has sold more than 11 million of its Model 500 pump-action shotguns, making it the most popular shotgun of all time, if not one of the most sold guns in any category, period.

Customizing the Colt Detective Special

Got a gun with that has seen better days? Perhaps Grandpa’s favorite gun was obviously “well loved?” Talented gunsmiths and other artisans are out there who can give your favorite firearm a much-needed face-lift.

First Look: Dead Air Armament Primal Suppressor

Dead Air Armament is adding the Primal, a new.46-caliber magnum rated suppressor to their lineup of firearms sound suppressors.

9/11 20 Years Later: A Special Smith & Wesson

There are still heroes in this world. We mourn the loss of one some 20 years later on the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

Why Defensive Firearms Training is So Important

Yes, you may never have to fire your handgun in defense of your life or family, but the possibility always exists.

Review: Smith & Wesson Shield Plus

In retrospect, Smith & Wesson had nobody to blame for the situation but themselves. The company didn’t invent the subcompact, lightweight, single-stack nine, of course. Walther and Beretta had preceded the original Shield to market by a few years with the PPS and the Nano, respectively, and Kahr had more or less created the niche back in the 1990s.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.