2 Things You Must Do If You Carry a Weapon for Self Defense

2 Things You Must Do If You Carry a Weapon for Self Defense

There are many misconceptions of why people might desire to carry a weapon. Several times each month I teach the legal portion of Idaho's Enhanced Concealed Class. It's always an eye-opener for most people since it is usually an area of uncertainty and anxiety. While they have firearms around the house for various purposes (hunting or target shooting) most haven't carried a firearm for the purpose of self-defense.

So in my class, I share the two things I that are critically important to anyone who is thinking of carrying a firearm for self-defense... SITUATIONAL AWARENESS and AVOIDANCE OF CONFLICT.

Why are these important? Both of them will help keep you from being involved in a deadly force encounter. And the goal of carrying a firearm is be prepared but not to be aggressive. After all, it's called "self-defense" training, not "aggression" training.


What exactly is situational awareness? Let me share with you a simple definition. It's simply being aware of what is going on around you. The late Jeff Cooper, a renowned firearms instructor, developed the Color Code of Awareness. I find this to be an extremely helpful graphical tool to keep in mind as you think about this concept. It allows you to visually see where you might be at any one point in time.

WHITE- Relaxed and Unaware

In condition White, you are relaxed and unaware of what is going on around you. Ideally, you should only be in condition White when asleep. But in the real world we often drop our guard when we feel safe, such as at home or in familiar surroundings. The one thing I try to help everyone understand is to be effective, you must do everything you can to resist condition White.

If someone decides to attack you while you're in condition White, you stand a much higher chance of being critically injured or even die-unless you are lucky. This isn't the time when you want to depend on luck so avoiding being in the White condition could save your life and those around you.

YELLOW - Relaxed and Aware

In condition Yellow, you remain relaxed, but now you are aware of who and what is around you. Condition Yellow is the first level of being aware of your situation. You are paying attention to the sights and sounds around you, regardless of where you might be at any given time.

If you're awake, you should be in condition Yellow even if you are at home. Home invasions, even in broad daylight, occur every day. While you are not paranoid while living in condition yellow, you're just being smart about your surroundings. You want to avoid being surprised. Keeping track of what's going on behind you is important. Most criminals surprise their victims by attacking from the rear. In the army, we told our buddies "watch your six."

Another great technique while in condition Yellow is running "what if" mental scenarios of where a threat could appear and what your reaction should be. Condition Yellow is definitely a much greater state of awareness of your situations and will save your life.

ORANGE - Aware of Potential Threat

In condition Orange, you have identified something of interest that may be a threat. Until you determine the true nature of whatever got your attention, your observations become more focused on the possible threat.

It is very important to stay focused until you are satisfied a threat doesn't actually exist. Be prepared to take action to avoid the threat. We will talk more about "conflict avoidance" below. But for now, the key is to be very aware of your surroundings and not dismiss the situation too easily. This can cause you to move back to Yellow.

Massad Ayoob, a well-known and respected expert, provides a handy standard for evaluating potential threats: ability, opportunity and jeopardy. "Ability" means a person has the ability to kill or cripple. "Opportunity" means he is capable of immediately employing that power. "Jeopardy" means his actions or words indicate he intends to do so and is about to do so. So if you are in condition Orange, it is a great idea to use his AOJ thinking to assess the situation around you at the present time and make some decisions.

RED - Confirmed Threat and Ready to Act

If you perceive a real threat, shift to condition Red. Condition red changes your focus from a potential threat to a potential target.

First, you should look for an avenue of safe retreat. If you can't retreat safely, decide what you will do if the threat persists. If you're in condition Red, you should not be surprised by only the primary threat. Having too much of an intense focus exposes you from unknown threats that may come from other directions. So it is important to train in such a way as to deal with these high stress situations. I'll discuss the physiological effects of your natural "fight or flight" response in another article.

If you can't safely retreat, move to a position that will give you a tactical advantage. Where can you take cover? Can you get next to a wall that will protect you from the rear? Don't concentrate on the threat without considering 360 degree security. If you are attacked while in Red, you should be fully prepared to defend yourself and stop the threat. If you shoot and kill someone, your life will change forever. You must be mentally prepared to deal with the aftermath of a deadly force encounter, that's also a topic for another article.

Like most great training ideas, this four-step color coded process merely confirms what common sense teaches. Use it as a guide and if it helps with your visual attentiveness, then it has been helpful. If you have another way to help get you into these four states, use this instead. This is merely a simple way to approach a situation.


The best gun fight is the one you you aren't involved in. Being situationally aware gives you the best opportunity to avoid conflict. Just because you're armed doesn't mean you should put yourself in harm's way. Don't go anywhere with your gun you would not go without it! For example, if you are contemplating taking a short cut at night down a dark alley because you are now carrying a firearm, don't.

Avoiding conflict will also minimize your legal exposure. Your mother reminded you of this important life's lesson way back when you headed out the door to meet that special someone for a date. "Stay out of trouble and be home by midnight." Other great parental advice that also applies to carrying a firearm: "Don't hang out with stupid people. Don't go to stupid places. And, don't do stupid things." These nuggets are the foundation of conflict avoidance.

Sometimes a harmless interaction turns deadly. Discussing politics or religion is one thing. But, getting in a heated argument is another. If you're armed, don't get into heated arguments. Things can, and probably will, spin out of control.

It is also critically important to always consider possible outcomes and be prepared to avoid the bad ones. The best tactic is to keep your distance from trouble. In other words, RETREAT.

Idaho and many other states have "stand your ground" laws. These laws provide you with a legal defense if you resort to deadly force. But, speaking as an attorney, you don't want to be in criminal court relying on whether "stand your ground" will get you acquitted.

As a mentioned above, in condition Red you want to move to a position of tactical advantage. Distance is your best friend. Retreating will often give you an advantage and increase your chances of stopping the threat and going home alive.

And one of the most important things to remember is that retreating is not an act of cowardice, it is an act of intelligence and preparedness. One of the first lessons they teach in martial arts is to avoid fighting at all costs. It is better to learn how to run faster than fight harder. So lose the notion that retreating is "running away" from trouble, even though that is exactly what you should be doing to avoid potential life threatening situations.

If you chose to arm yourself, you are taking on a lot of responsibility. If you act irresponsibly, you could end up in prison for a very long time. "The possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility." There is no power greater than the power to take a human life.


If you follow the guide above about knowing you situation, possibly using the color coding system, you will usually be far more prepared for danger when it comes your way. Know your surroundings at ALL TIMES. This isn't a "turn it on" and "turn it off" type of situation. It is something you should be prepared to have in your mind constantly.

And while you know what is going on in your environment, you should also be thinking of how can you retreat and avoid the situation. Putting yourself in a position of danger simply because you are carrying a firearm is a recipe for disaster. Think about your situation, then think about where you can go to avoid it.

A fun quote to end with is one from the famous Clint Eastwood, when he said, "I have a very strict gun control policy... if there's a gun around, I want to be in control of it."

Be prepared, be smart, and be safe!

I am an Estate Planning attorney with a passion and interest in Gun Law. I help gun owners better understand the law so they can safely own, possess, transfer, and enjoy their firearms.


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