Lessons Learned: Convenience Store Confrontation with ‘Panhandling’ Youths

Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author Kevin Townsend that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 10, Issue 6, August/September 2013 under the title, “Lessons Learned at a Convenience Store: Sometimes it takes a close call to really teach you a lesson.”

In June 2008, my wife and I were returning from a trip to Pensacola, Florida, to our home in Texas. On the day we were to return home, we got up very early and began driving our rental car back to the airport in New Orleans. We started early because we knew we would have to fuel and return the car and be ready for a 6 a.m. flight. My carry gun at that time was a Kahr PM40, a single-stack, six-shot auto-pistol. I usually carried a second magazine with an extra six shots, but on that morning, I had packed the extra magazine in my locked TSA-approved container in preparation for our flight.

When my wife and I entered the metro New Orleans area, we began looking for a gas station. It was just before 3:30 a.m. when we spotted a convenience store off the freeway. The store’s exterior and gas pump area were brightly lit with high-powered lights. There were no people in or around the store at the time we pulled up except for the lone clerk inside. It appeared to be a safe and secure place to fuel the rental car.

At the time these events happened, I considered myself to be well-prepared — maybe over-prepared — in the area of personal self-defense. (I am retired military and a former police officer.) I foolishly thought I was smart enough to be able to keep a criminal from getting the best of me. I was wrong.

As we pulled up to the gas pumps, my wife and I divided the duties. I would go in and take an urgently needed bathroom break. She would start fueling the car. When I came back out, I would finish the fueling while she went to the restroom.

CHANGE IN PLANS

I had taken no more than three steps toward the store when I heard a male voice from behind me say, “Hey, man, I need some money.”

Impossible! No one could have covered the distance across the brightly lit concrete apron to the pump island without me seeing them or, especially, hearing his footsteps as he approached. As I spun around, I found myself about 15 feet from a 15- to 18-year-old male seated on a bicycle. (Now you know why bicycle cops use bikes; they are fast and silent.)

Because of prior training, I am aware of the technique used by many robbers where they approach their victim and start off by panhandling for money. If confronted by law enforcement, they can claim they were just “asking” for a donation. In most places, this is a misdemeanor or ordinance violation at best. During the “panhandling phase,” they size up the mark. If they feel they have the upper hand and can make a clean getaway, they instantly change from “asking for a handout” to a strong-arm or armed robbery. In a blink of an eye, the dynamic changes from “asking” to threats and even armed violence. To survive, their victim must now instantly adapt to a potential life-and-death situation. I am convinced that this young adult, out at 3 a.m. on a weeknight, hanging around the darkened periphery of a convenience store supposedly trying to get “donations” from complete strangers, was not trying to obtain his Boy Scout merit badge in good citizenship.

At the time, I was carrying my pistol in the small of my back. I reached around and grasped my pistol, preparing to draw if that proved necessary. I used a direct, no-nonsense tone in speaking to him and tried to verbally and nonverbally convey to him, “Leave me alone.” He kept pressing for money, and I kept refusing. I instinctively shifted my position to place myself between him and my wife.

THE SETUP

As I changed position, I noticed a vehicle enter the station parking lot and park in front of the convenience store. Almost immediately, I saw two additional young adults traveling at high speed on bikes enter the lighted parking lot from the dark.

I realized then that these “panhandlers” were coming from a hill outside of the area lit by the high-intensity lights. They were in the shadows, where people in the lighted parking lot looking out into the dark couldn’t see them, and yet they could clearly see everything happening in the lot from their concealed position. Using gravity and their superior position high on the hill to build speed, they were able to quickly and silently surprise their prey (as they had done so effectively with me). The two bicyclists flanked the car that had just stopped in the parking lot and both juveniles moved in on the man who exited the vehicle. The young adult who had been pressing me for money moved over to assist his two comrades. I stayed with my wife until the car had been fueled.

We then entered the convenience store, and each used the restroom. When I opened the door from the men’s restroom, my wife was standing in front of the open door with her back pressed up against the hallway wall. Her hands were flat against the wall and her eyes were wide with fear. Her posture reminded me of someone trying to hide by melting into the wall. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, “There are 10 of them!” I looked down the hallway toward the main part of the store and, sure enough, my wife was right. I could see an apparent gang — 10 members with their 10 bicycles — parked in a row out in front of the store’s glass windows.

I don’t know for a fact if they were armed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some of them were. It was then that it hit me. If my “panhandler” had made the transition to armed robber and I had to engage him with defensive fire, I could have very well been facing NINE MORE potentially armed members of the gang, and I had a total of SIX SHOTS available to deal with them!

LESSONS LEARNED

Regardless of how good you feel about your skills, don’t let your arrogance or high self-opinion blind you to the fact that there could be someone out there who is smarter than you, faster than you or who has set a cleverer trap for you than you anticipated. Prepare for the worst by regularly employing realistic training, and then, if the worst happens, you will be ready. Pride really does go before a fall.

An empty gun makes a poor club and an even worse self-defense tool. Make sure you have enough ammunition to deal with the anticipated threat and even those hidden threats you may not anticipate. Too much is better than too little.

In a self-defense shooting, you become a “bullet magnet” for the gunfire being aimed in your direction. Fight your natural instinct to shield your family members with your body. Keep your family members and loved ones away from you so that they will not be accidentally struck by projectiles intended for you.

Not all criminals are stupid. Maintain situational awareness by watching for and anticipating the well-prepared trap.

Not every self-defense situation will be one-on-one; prepare for a potential disparity of force where the odds are stacked against you. Life isn’t fair, and that is especially true of situations requiring armed self-defense.

Following this incident, I started regularly participating in formal self-defense training events each year. I have switched from a single-stack pocket pistol to a full-sized double-stack defensive pistol. I carry a minimum of 26 rounds on me at all times.

I now realize that luck was the major determining factor in us avoiding a potentially very dangerous situation. If something like this were to ever happen again, I intend that preparation will make the difference rather than luck. Are you prepared?

Discover how you can join nearly 300,000 responsibly armed Americans who already rely on the USCCA to protect their families, futures and freedoms: USCCA.com/gunsamerica.

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{ 36 comments… add one }
  • Ariel November 2, 2018, 1:33 pm

    And the author STILL went in and used the bathroom?! I’d have paid at the pump and been OUT OF THERE. Maybe not as “over prepared” and streetwise as thought, eh?

  • Karl Vanhooten October 29, 2018, 7:41 pm

    Like Momma said, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” What a dumb ass putting his family in harm’s way in a notorious area of NOLA.

  • Carl Wyant October 29, 2018, 3:02 am

    AND the author of this obviously fictional half-story could not even come up with a better name than “administrator”?

    I would be ashamed to put my name on such an arrant piece of fiction too, though.

  • NBC October 28, 2018, 12:15 am

    NOLA isn’t safe in daylight, let alone at 3:30 in the morning!

  • Irish-7 October 27, 2018, 1:58 pm

    As mentioned in several previous comments, I am curious to how the situation resolved! Why not tell us the whole story? There may be even more lessons to be learned. Anyway, I carry one of two .45 ACP pistols daily, depending on my attire. The smaller of the two, a Smith & Wesson 457 has a 7 round magazine, the larger (Ruger P345) holds 8, plus one in the chamber. I always carry 3 additional magazines, so I either have 29 or 33 bullets. I’ve been told “that’s too much”, but after reading these accounts, I feel justified. Depending on where I’m going, or if I’m alone, I’ll periodically take a revolver as back-up (Judge Public Defender or S&W Governor. I believe the shot shell capability to be a “force multiplier”.

  • Glenn61 October 27, 2018, 4:49 am

    A cell phone and dash cam would have been very handy here too….. Me…?,, I’m not out at 3:30 am,,, that’s when the rogues and ne’er do wells are out and active.

  • Thomas Fowler October 26, 2018, 11:41 pm

    Add a ,45…you will need less ammo. Good scenario, thank you.

  • John L October 26, 2018, 9:09 pm

    Here’s my story. Loading my truck after church. No one else around. Accosted by two young homeless guys asking for water. I told them to take all they could carry. July in Phoenix Az. They thanked me profusely and left. The end.

  • MadMagyar October 26, 2018, 7:41 pm

    First – and most important – mistake is being in NO, at ANY time. I grew up in Compton before it “went dark”. Moved away soon afterward , but Dad kept the house as a rental. When my parents broke up he moved back, and I was there when Watts happened in ’65. We had mostly Mexican-American neighbors but after dark the first day there were lots of cars bristling with rifle and shotgun barrels cruising up and down my street – guys “lookin’ fo’ whitey”. We got out later that night, but not before a few nearby stores had been set on fire. Six days later the “official” death toll was 34, but many years later I met a former member of the Orange Fire Dept. He told a different story: while on a break he walked by a hook and ladder company’s truck parked across an alleyway, with the guy handling the rear water cannon spraying into the alley, and pink-colored water flowing out across the parking lot. He hopped up on the back bumper and saw the entire alley filled to the top of the truck with bodies. My estimate, given the dimensions of alleyways back then, was about 2000+ bodies. Their captain came up behind him, jerked him back off the truck and yelled at him that he was never to talk about what he’d seen or he’d never work in LA or Orange Counties again. So he waited until he retired before telling what he’d seen.

    Point is – NEVER go into any areas controlled by people who would hunt you.

  • William M. Quirk October 26, 2018, 4:30 pm

    LOL, Yes I am always interested in the end of a story ,WTF .

  • Charles Kimberl October 26, 2018, 3:26 pm

    So, how did the situation end?

  • DGinGA October 26, 2018, 2:35 pm

    The lesson here is better situational awareness, not a lack of ammunition. The station may have appeared deserted, but he and his wife should never have separated. When a rider appeared suddenly, they should have gotten in the car and left at once. Especially after seeing the others. The rider pulls a knife. He shoots. The others ride to the scene. One of them picks up the knife and rides way. The other 9 start yelling, and call 911 to report a shooting of an unarmed kid by a man. The cops come and hear 8 or 9 people all say the kid was only asking for money and had no weapon. We don’t know the race of anyone – but if it was a white man and a black ‘child’, and this happened in an area like Atlanta where the city and county administration are hostile to Caucasians, he can count on arrest. Maybe with the right lawyers he’ll be vindicated – but with the kid’s mother sobbing on TV and ‘community activists’ whipping up protest, he’s toast.
    IT is unfortunate that we have to be so cautious about ordinary things, but reality is what it is. Sticking one’s head in the sand is not an adult response. Next time, gas up the evening before. Paying the $8 or $9 per gallon that car rental companies charge is cheap, considering the alternative. Besides, what if he’d had more ammo? Then there could well be more victims, and he’d be lambasted for carrying a gun with ‘high capacity’ magazines, adding to the media fuss. You can’t win – but you can and must include cultural values into a situational awareness assessment.

  • Capn Stefano October 26, 2018, 12:42 pm

    And people are amazed when I tell them I pack an EAA Witness Elite Match 10MM with 20 rds on tap, 4 extra mags and a .45 or .40 BUG with reloads, plus a Cold Steel Counterpoint XL and a hardwood warclub walking stick. Going to an area which the article describes I would also be wearing a level 3 A vest

  • Rudder October 26, 2018, 11:20 am

    You “had packed the extra magazine in my locked TSA-approved container in preparation for our flight.” So, what were you planning on doing with the Kahr PM 40 when you got to the airport, keep it in the small of your back while walking through TSA security? Or, perhaps wait until the last minute in the baggage check-in line and unlock the TSA-approved container and add the PM40 to its contents? The baggage check-in line at Louis Armstrong (New Orleans) airport is a curbside. Oh, perhaps you intended to disarm at the rental car return before boarding the shuttle bus.

    • mikeb October 26, 2018, 12:56 pm

      You can check baggage inside and you can carry inside at Louis Armstrong. Just don’t try to carry through TSA.

  • JohnR October 26, 2018, 10:26 am

    Reminds me of a time when I was heading from Indianapolis to a new duty station at FT Hood with a new car and and a new wife. Started running low on gas in west Memphis so I stopped at the nearest gas station to the interstate.
    A tall black individual exited the store carrying a pump action shotgun, came up to the drivers side of the car and tapped on the window and asked me what I wanted.
    Told him I need gas and he said stay in your car, do not get out, I’ll pump your gas.
    He filled up the car and I paid him, even offered a tip which he refused but he offered a tip to me by stating “nothing good ever happens after 10:00. If you ever come back this way make sure you have enough gas to get through Memphis. You are a clueless young man and your new shiny car and out of state plates make you a an easy target.” I thanked him and went on my way.
    That was 40 years ago but not lightly forgotten.
    Problem falls under the category of situational awareness and “nothing good happens after 10 o’clock.

    • Specom October 26, 2018, 1:09 pm

      40 years ago? Damn things weren’t THAT bad in Detroit 40 years ago. Guess what Ive heard about Memphis are true.

  • Brad October 26, 2018, 10:13 am

    Reading this was a waste of time. You tell a half baked story and you don’t even mention the outcome or even if you needed the other mag.

    I’ll finish it…

    One of the kids come up and pulls a blade and demands money or your life. You then draw and do a double tap to the head and you ask in a Dirty Harry voice, “Who’s next?” and the rest of the gang scatters like a bunch of roaches into the night.

    The end.

  • David Kent October 26, 2018, 9:12 am

    “Don’t let your arrogance or high self-opinion blind you?” If you think you can survive a 10 against 1 gunfight, you need a reality check, no matter how many bullets you have.

    • Justista October 26, 2018, 11:33 am

      It’s been done before.
      I’d rather go into something like that thinking I stood a chance than thinking it can’t be done.

  • gerald October 26, 2018, 9:06 am

    IMO this is not an actual account of an incident. Too many “holes” in story. Unbelievable as told.

    • Scotty Gunn October 27, 2018, 9:28 pm

      That’s what I was thinking. Author painted himself into a corner, story line wise. No easy way out of the story not involving violence, police,etc. So, he just dropped it.

  • Mike October 26, 2018, 9:05 am

    So…..

    You stopped in New Orleans at 3:30 AM to fuel up, and you were going to let your wife stand alone in the parking lot pumping gas while you went in to potty. Strike One.

    When confronted by a “youngster” that made you feel unsafe, and others were showing up on the scene, you chose to head on in the store instead of getting in the car and leaving. Strike Two.

    Then you headed in to use the restroom and left your wife standing out in the store alone. Strike Three.

    Why didn’t you just wear a sign saying, “Please rob me and rape my wife.”?

    This tale sounds made up or exaggerated to me. But if it’s not, you, “sir”, missed out on the avoidance and common sense part of your training. What kind of “man” puts his wife and himself in such a risky situation.

    With you around, your wife better start training and carrying also.

    • Kelly October 26, 2018, 10:25 pm

      You said exactly what I was going to say with your list of points. Either the writer is inept and survived his entire law enforcement career by pure luck, or he fabricated most of, if not the entire account.

      I would venture to say that most other readers, here, wondered why he did what he said he did, too.

  • Charles Bradley October 26, 2018, 8:59 am

    I guess you survived and I see your point but it would have been nice to finish the story. Nobody called the cops for a gang robbery? What happened to the other driver? With 10 robbers, they didn’t rob the store?

  • Jay October 26, 2018, 8:51 am

    Nothing says Hello like getting half a story! Jezz!

  • William Norman October 26, 2018, 8:16 am

    Then I got out my phone and called 911, the cops came and the juveniles retreated. THE END.

    • Slingblade October 26, 2018, 10:00 am

      Just like the mindless indoctrinated Sheeple are trained to do..THE END

  • Wayne October 26, 2018, 8:05 am

    The authored got me hooked, too! It would be nice to know what happened. Perhaps the clerk helped them or a Police Officer happened by, or more customers arrived?

  • Ray Robinson October 26, 2018, 7:41 am

    Sounds like the scenario a few decades ago where a big city off duty cop with a five shot revolver chose to surrender to a gang of six in a subway and was mutalated for lhis consideration. I thought then, and still do, when the first and second bad guys get hit the rest will try to run. They are thieves not gunfighters. And how would they know the extent of your ammo.

  • Seagull October 26, 2018, 7:35 am

    Best to call 911 early. Even a police officer would have called for backup. Dirtbags are opportunists like coyotes.

  • Mike October 26, 2018, 6:57 am

    I assume nothing happened…just trying to hook customers for WCCTA

  • John Hanna October 26, 2018, 5:14 am

    What the….? So “what” happened? Did you get accosted by the 10 bad guys? Did you call the po-po? Did you engage them? Brandish your weapon and they stood down?
    DID YOU PROOF READ YOUR ACCOUNT AND SEE THE GAPING HOLE AT THE END IF YOUR STORY? I would assume another installment of we simply guess at what happened. Sheesh man….

  • Frank Romo October 26, 2018, 3:42 am

    Sounds like a training scenario, why wasn’t it finished? Or you were you just making this up? Just my asking? Don’t start something and leave it like a teaser, are you going to complete this case?

  • SuperG October 24, 2018, 11:27 am

    How disappointing that you didn’t finish the story. How did you evade the 10 hood-rats?

    • Gary October 24, 2018, 4:20 pm

      I thought the same thing. I feel like I fell asleep in the last half hour of a movie! 😒

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