Ep. 32 Should I Shoot? Threat Assessment in Cold Weather


Editor’s Note: The following is a post by Ed Combs, the Associate Editor of Concealed Carry Magazine.  

Check out the last five episodes in this series:

“Cold weather” means different things to different people. To some, “cold” is what happens when it’s no longer sunny and 75 degrees every day. To others, it’s not “cold” until your face gets numb within a minute of walking outdoors. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, cold weather changes how most carry concealed. I’m not just talking about gear and rigging; I’m talking about how to scan for potential threats when almost every man you see is walking around with his hands in his pockets.

Basic human threat assessment involves the following concepts in the following order: Whole person, hands, demeanor. What this means is that when determining whether an individual likely presents a threat, you first look at the whole person, then you look to see what his or her hands are up to, then you look at his or her face, body language and general deportment. Whole person tells you basics, like whether he or she appears to be a full-grown adult male or a pre-adolescent female; hands tells you whether he or she is holding something and what it might be; and demeanor tells you what he or she might be up to. It’s deceptively simple, and it can be anything but easy.

Say you’re returning to your vehicle after an evening meeting. The church (or wherever) is in the Old Downtown area, so you had to park a block and a half away. It’s dark, but the streetlights are on and some businesses are still open. As you cross the street, a 20-something man wearing a loose parka, dirty, baggy jeans and untied work boots comes around the corner of a building at the end of the block and, when he spots you, slows his pace. You move farther to the right of the sidewalk; he mirrors you. He rolls a ski mask down over his face, digs his hands into his pockets and continues ambling toward you.

In the spirit of this series, I ask: Should you shoot?

Well … of course not. He’s a man on a public street wearing a ski mask with his hands in his pockets. In all likelihood, that’s because it’s 22 degrees outside; for all you know, he just that moment walked outside and is heading home from work. Moreover, when you first saw him, he was a block away — all of 88 yards. That said, now he’s 50 yards away and almost moving at half-speed; it at least seems like he wants to make sure your paths cross.

Should you shoot?

The answer is still absolutely not. He might be drunk, he might be injured … you have no idea why he’s acting like that. But you need to start considering that there might be something dangerously wrong with the situation. If you haven’t already, this is the time to cross the street or, even better, walk into an open business if one is nearby.

So you cross the street and he follows.

Should you shoot?

We’re still not there yet, but this is definitely the time to get your hand on your sidearm and prepare to issue strong verbal commands. This is the time to have your flashlight in your non-gun hand (you do have a flashlight, right?) and to be ready to shine it in his eyes while warning him to stay away from you. You really hope this is just a terrible misunderstanding on your end, but if it isn’t, you want to get out of the situation without being forced to shoot. Everything’s already gotten very weird, but hopefully, at worst, it will conclude with nothing more than a call to 911 to tell the dispatcher that you had to draw your weapon on an attacker who then fled.

He’s within 25 yards, and he’s again positioned himself on a collision course with you.

You step over a concrete parking marker into the well-lit parking lot of a shuttered furniture store; so does he, and he’s getting closer. You begin to move laterally, you shine him in the face with your flashlight and you yell that he needs to get away from you. He quickens his pace, begins to yell something you can’t understand and begins to pull his hands out of his pockets. Without realizing it, you’ve already drawn and your front sight is squarely trained on his sternum.

Should you shoot?

Now he’s 10 yards away, and as the adrenaline dumps into your system and auditory exclusion sets in, you can see his mouth moving behind the mask but you can’t hear what he’s saying. You’re still moving and you’re still yelling, and you can’t see what it is he’s holding. You realize that this is actually happening and that if he gets much closer you’re going to open fire.

Should you shoot?

Here’s the bad news: You still don’t know.

If you shoot and he turns out to be a mentally handicapped man who thought you were his neighbor that gives him rides to the store, you’re finished. You will likely lose your job and any money you’ve managed to save, and you’ll have a higher chance of regaining those than you will of regaining your reputation. Depending on the dynamics of the shooting, you can expect professional protestors and rioters to pour in from out of state. Expect to have to pull your kids out of school. Worst of all, expect to be tortured by guilt for the remainder of your days. Expect the worst.

If you shoot him and he turns out to be a repeat-offending violent predator who was holding a stolen .45 with which he was going to pistol-whip or shoot you before taking your wallet and car keys, your situation will be slightly better but might not even seem like it. Depending on the dynamics of the shooting, it could be almost as bad.

The solution is to never let someone acting so strangely get that close to you without alerting them, in no uncertain terms, that you do not want them near you. Shine him with your flashlight. Do everything in your power to tell him that you are not an easy meal and that he needs to get away from you, immediately. Equally importantly, do everything in your power to alert the world to the fact that you are a reluctant participant in this violent encounter. You didn’t go looking for it, you didn’t want to take part in it and you tried to escape from it, but you were unfortunately forced to end it before your attacker could murder you.

Should you shoot?

The answer is almost never yes, but when it is, only accurate gunfire will suffice. Making that call will fundamentally alter your life, so the more thought you put into it now, the better.

For more critical information on the use of deadly force and other firearms and self-defense topics, visit www.uscca.com/GunsAmerica.

About the author: S.H. Blannelberry is the News Editor of GunsAmerica.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Norman Lutter December 9, 2016, 6:41 pm

    This scenario is something any of us could experience. Things happen fast, but I would hope I would respond before the unknown intentions of the individual, who seems to be targeting me, would get that close. I hopefully would verbally address the individual soon after I feel he is targeting me. I hopefully would make a 911 call when I know the persons actions are intent on me as a target. I know we are instructed to not draw your weapon unless you are going to use it. I do think there are times that it would be proper to draw (after warning the individual that you are carrying, drawn your weapon and have called 911) and if he does not change his approach a warning shot is fired into something near the individual that will absorbe the round (if possible) and you take cover if available. I agree at this time you are committed if the individual draws and does not stop approaching you with what appears to be a weapon. There is always the possibility that the individual removes themselves from the scene. At least you have taken three steps to stop the individual before you target the individual with your next round which will not be a warning round. This may sound like a text book approach, but I still think there are times a warning shot is appropriate. We need to evaluate each situation as it unfolds.

  • Wilburn Edwards December 9, 2016, 4:13 pm

    Excellent article. Hopefully I will never find myself in that situation. I am a retired LEO, so have had a few situations while working. This article brings to mind what happen to one of our reserve officer back in the 70’s. While off duty and in civilian clothes he was walking into a bank when he felt a gun in his back from a guy who’s intent was to rob the bank. Our officer along with the other customers & employees complied with the guy’s commands as he finished the robbery. As the bad guy left the bank our officer got up off the floor and followed the bad guy out the door as he was running to his vehicle. Our officer drew his weapon, and yelled something like “police” and “stop or I’ll shoot”. The bad guy turned around and pointed his weapon at our officer who then fired striking the bad guy and ending the confrontation. It turned out the bad guy had a replica gun like squirt gun. That night the news criticized the officer for failing to recognizing the weapon was just a squirt gun and no threat. By the next day it was learned that this bad guy was an escaped convict out of California, his vehicle was stolen and he had warrants for bank robbery. Then the news stories changed and the officer was highly praised for getting this guy off the street. Also, the bad guy was only critically wounded and survived. One moment a officer is criticized for bad judgement, the next moment he is praised for doing a good job. This took place in Lynnwood, Washington where I was working at the time.

  • KBSacto December 9, 2016, 12:36 pm

    Well penned. It made me think of my daughters and what I’ve told them. Stay in a well lit area, and around other people if possible. Don’t park where you’ll be alone with shadows all around you when you return. Ensure you avoid putting yourself in a position to become a victim. The best safety tool we have is in between our ears. Thanks.

  • Jonathan Olenick December 9, 2016, 9:41 am

    “Better to be tried by 12 than carried by six!’ 20 foot rule. Jon (vet).

  • Ron Stidham December 9, 2016, 8:53 am

    Excellent article! Should I shoot? That is the question we all need to take seriously, the thought of killing some one-man, woman, child is not a prospect I hope I never have to be placed in. This world is getting weirder fast, with all the crime/criminals of the time, its not a safe place these days. As directed keep moving laterally from the suspected BG, Shout your commands so every one can hear, make no mistake of your surroundings. Again I hope to never be in this situation, but bad things happen to good people. Your attention to your surroundings is your responsibility. Think, react, stay safe.

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