The Importance of Awareness and Avoidance for Personal Defense

posted on July 28, 2020

By now, we are all well-aware “social distancing” helps slow the spread of disease. It also allows greater reaction time to deal with bad actors—whether that means preparing for an attack or leaving the scene before one even happens.

If the armed citizen takes personal defense seriously, there is a lot to learn. They certainly have to learn to shoot their chosen defensive firearm accurately and efficiently. They have to learn defensive tactics and techniques that will help with surviving a deadly encounter. In spite of all of this, our goal should be to avoid a confrontation with criminals whenever possible. 

Now I can’t speak for the ladies, but I do know that many men daydream about doing heroic things—the hero to the rescue, if you will. It’s one of the reasons action movies and John Wayne Westerns are still so popular. We sit and watch the hero cleaning up on the bad guys and we are thinking, “I could do that.” All of that is harmless, so long as we recognize that it is just fantasy. 

In reality, lots of things can happen in a gunfight, and most of those things are bad. You may have the latest triple-stacked shooting iron, loaded with radar-controlled bullets, in a double-rectified synthetic holster of the latest, most pleasing colors, and still lose. The 23 classes you took at the Fanner 50 Combat School won’t mean a thing when the bad guy’s first shot ricochets off the curb and hits you between the eyes. That is the reality of gunfighting.

While you may scoff at all of that, I remember the night a wildly flung bullet went through a closed door and hit a Texas Ranger right between the eyes. Sometimes, it’s not the bullet with your name on it, it’s the one that says, “To whom it may concern.”

It is also important to avoid the tendency to want to “play police.” In most cases, law enforcement will take a very dim view of a citizen getting involved when not absolutely necessary. It is one thing to jump to the aid of a police officer who is clearly about to be overcome, but it is another thing entirely to insert oneself into a domestic dispute instead of calling the authorities. Oftentimes, the best favor we can do for law enforcement is to use our increased awareness skills to serve as good witnesses.

When we work to develop our awareness skills, we do so in order to spot disturbances as early as possible. When we spot potential troublemakers at the complete other end of the mall, we have a lot of options, not the least of which is to simply leave before any unrest starts. When our first awareness of the punks is when they block the doorway of the small shop that we are in, our options become much more limited, and avoidance may be out of the question.

While some folks think of personal defense in terms of defending against armed robbery or home invasions, everyday encounters may turn equally as bad. That minor fender-bender may turn into a road-rage incident. The boundary discussion with a neighbor could turn sour. In these types of cases, we have very little control over the emotions and actions of the other person. We can, however, control our own emotions and extract ourselves from an argument that could become violent. 

Our society expects us to avoid trouble whenever possible. This is especially true when we are being judged by a jury. Imagine that you and I are on a jury and we hear this testimony:

“I was trying to eat my steak, and this guy—I think he was drunk—kept trying to talk to me and argue with me. I don’t have to put up with that kind of crap. I’ve got a concealed-carry license. So, I told him to pipe down or he’d be sorry. That’s when he pulled the knife out and I had to shoot him.”

Imagine, instead, that this was the testimony given:“While I was trying to eat my meal, a guy at the next table kept trying to start an argument with me—he may have been intoxicated. I tried to be nice, but could see that it wasn’t going to work. So, I left my meal unfinished, paid the bill and left the restaurant. The same guy followed me out into the parking lot and came at me with a knife. I had to defend myself.”

Which version do you find more sympathetic? Most people—like those you’d find on a jury—will find the second testimony far more persuasive in terms of determining that the use of lethal force in self-defense was justified.

Another reason for avoiding the use of deadly force whenever possible is the cost of legal representation. Very few people consider what an attorney will cost in the wake of a lawful use of deadly force. You can multiply that cost by a factor of 10 if the district attorney feels that you weren’t justified in using that deadly force. I’m not a lawyer, but you should consult an attorney and find out what the fees would be under those circumstances. I’m fairly certain the amount will be staggering.

In short, there are all sorts of reasons that the armed citizen should avoid violent encounters whenever possible. Personal safety, expense and civil and criminal liability are important reasons. The best gunfight is truly the one that never happens.


Crossbreed outrider
Crossbreed outrider

Review: CrossBreed OutRider MultiFit Modular Holster and Magazine Pouch

A leather outside the waistband holster from a company known for making hybrid holsters.

First Look: Taurus GX4 Carry 9 mm Pistol

Taurus expands the GX4 family with an even bigger brother to the GX4XL.

First Look: Burris BTS V2 Thermal Optic

Packed with features, including streaming, multiple reticle ad color palette options and a nifty QD mount.

Honoring Our Veterans

Two separate industry events honor those who serve.

Winchester USA Ready Defense

Winchester’s USA Ready Defense ammunition looks to be a reliable and effective option for use in self-defense handguns.

Review: Taurus Judge Executive Grade

By now, you’d have to be living in a cave (digital or otherwise) to not know about the Taurus Judge revolver.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.