How to Stop an Attack Before It Starts

posted on July 8, 2019

A few years ago, I was coming out of a New Mexico restaurant after having lunch. As I stepped from the sidewalk into the parking lot, I saw a scruffy-looking guy, definitely out of place, with his hands in his coat pockets, headed straight for me. As he closed, he asked me the time.

Spotting this guy, I had immediately gone from Condition Yellow to Condition Orange, feeling that he was a potential threat. He didn’t look like the kind of guy who would really care what time it was and, as you might expect, there were clocks on the wall just inside the restaurant.

I put my left hand up, palm out, in a gesture that said “Stop.” My right hand brushed my coat back just enough so I could get my hand on my pistol. My body was slightly bladed away from him so he could not see what my right hand was doing. I said, “Go away.” And he did.

Now, quite honestly, this guy was probably just a panhandler who was looking for a handout. They will often ask some innocuous question in order to open a conversation that leads to a request for money. But, thieves and robbers use the same tactics.

Thinking back, I wonder just how many times the presence of a gun, seen or not, has stopped what could have been a criminal attack. I suspect it happens every day across this country.

Some years ago, officers in my department arrested several armed robbers in the middle of their latest robbery. One of the crooks was cooperative and gave a confession. He was so cooperative, in fact, that he agreed to ride around with some of us and critique the “rob-ability” of the various convenience stores in our town.

One place looked really good to me and I asked the robber why they never hit that place. He told me that they had cased it, but marked it off their list when they saw the night clerk. He said the night clerk looked like a cowboy—that is, the kind of guy who would keep a gun handy. They were right. I knew the clerk and he kept a .45 Colt New Service close at hand.

One authority, who has made a study of violent crime, believes that hundreds of thousands of serious, deadly crimes are stopped by armed citizens each year. He further estimates that in at least 98 percent of these cases, a shot is never fired. The crooks see a gun or suspect the presence of a gun and can’t get away from there fast enough. For various reasons, many of these cases are never reported to law enforcement.

Those of us who carry defensive handguns might do well to keep this in mind. When you think that a violent confrontation is headed your way and there is still time before the fireworks start, it might be a good idea to present an appearance that says, “I have a gun. Go away.” There is really nothing to be lost by this. If they continue and the situation merits it, you can still deploy the firearm.

When you see someone, from a distance, approaching with a knife or club, you might very well draw to the low-ready position and, again, give the command, “Go away.” Being in Condition Red, at this time, you are ready to back up your command with whatever force is necessary.

The one pitfall in these types of situations is to be one of those who doesn’t report the incident to law enforcement. You holster up and go on about your business while the bad guys contact law enforcement and tell a tale that clearly makes you the aggressor. While the truth might finally come out, you are more than likely going to be the one who is kissing the gravel and wearing new bracelets before it is over. If the bad guy saw your gun, or if you think he might have, report it immediately.

In my encounter with the urban outdoorsman in the restaurant parking lot, I knew he hadn’t seen my gun and I was purposely positioned so that no one else could see it. Had there been any doubt about that in my mind, I would have been on the cell phone dialing 9-1-1.

Finally, while producing our gun to stop a problem before it gets out of hand, we want to make sure that we are not violating any brandishing laws. The only way to make sure of this is to carefully study the laws in your state and then to discuss it further with an attorney or law enforcement. As with other aspects of personal defense, gun-shop advisers and social-media superstars are usually not a reliable source of legal advice.

If you can stop a violent attack before it starts, good for you. You just saved yourself a lot of headaches and maybe some heartaches. Report the incident immediately if there’s any reason it might be necessary. It’s the smart thing to do.


RCBS Chargemaster Supreme
RCBS Chargemaster Supreme

High-Tech Handloading

I now keep all my ammunition-creation data on a computer. Sure, I’ll make notes when working up a new load or tweaking an existing one, but ultimately my data is stored digitally. Since my loading room is only steps from my computer, the transition from written to digital data has been easy for me. Now that I’m using the handloading app from RCBS, it’s even easier, and it also makes recreating my favorite loads when I’m at the loading bench more convenient.

First Look: 1791 Gunleather Holsters for S&W CSX Pistols

New holsters for the nifty little pistol from Smith & Wesson.

First Look: XS Night Sights for SA XD OSP and Tisas PX-9

Two new front and rear sight sets featuring some of XS Sights most popular designs.

Concealed-Carry Contemplations

You took a concealed-carry class from a well-known instructor who visited your local range recently. You learned a lot—especially that there was a lot yet to learn—over the two days of the course.

What We Plan For

Sheriff Jim reminds us that wishing and hopeful thinking should not be part of your self-defense plan.

First Look: GiantMouse ACE Nazca Knives

A folding knife with south of the border style.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.