Watching Their Hands and Making Decisions

There's a threat in front of you, and things are starting to get ugly. Now what?

posted on April 8, 2023
Sheriff Jim Wilson

A fairly common personal defense problem is one in which an individual is approaching you with their hands out of sight, either in pockets or behind the back. In addition to this, they may be clearly angry or even making verbal threats. We know that the type of response we make should be based upon whether or not this person makes an assault using a weapon or just their bare hands. It is important to see their hands and know if they are armed and/or how they are armed.

Often, armed citizens in this sort of situation will give the command, “Put your hands up”, or “Let me see your hands.”  If you think about it, though, you have just commanded the suspect to move. Now, when they begin to move, you have to determine if they are moving to comply or moving to deploy a weapon.

The better defensive command might be, “Stop! Don’t move!” You can better articulate your concern for your safety by the fact that they ignored your command to stop and was also making verbal threats at the time.

But, what if they won’t stop coming towards you and won’t take their hands out of his pockets. Are you justified at using lethal force at this point? Can you explain why you thought you were about to lose your life? Might it be a good idea to have some sort of less lethal defensive tool available in case he makes a bare-handed attack?

Keep in mind that distance is your friend and creating distance is nearly always a good idea. Another option is to move so that there is something between you and your attacker, a desk, a trash can, a vehicle, something. Do you have the option of just exiting the scene?

When you consider this kind of scenario, you see that there is rarely an easy answer. The armed citizen needs to give prior thought to the various lawful options that are available to him or her. Some prior planning and practice will help apply the proper solution in a timely fashion.


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