As a civilian my mission mindset in a threat environment is: Stop the immediate threat, Move to somewhere safe, Communicate to local authorities, and then provide Security, Support, and Cooperation. These are all suggestions I’ve gleaned from various professional and legal resources over the years, and none of this should be taken as legal advice: I am not a lawyer, I am not an expert in firearms law, and I am not a Law Enforcement Officer. I’m just a civilian. These are things I’ve either researched extensively or worked out with various self-defense instructors over the years. This was in response to a thread on Primary & Secondary, a very well-kept forum for professionals and novice gun owners alike.
I had a hard time embracing the idea of ‘less is more’ for a while, particularly because I was a packrat in the Army and tend to plan for the worst. Always more ammo, more gear, more tools. I still tend to wear cargo pants and 5.11 shirts to accommodate all the junk I haul around. A friend of mine went through a phase where he carried a sidearm, a BUG, two knives, an altoids tin full of hemostatic gauze, and a punch knife in his belt. He’s since reduced his loadout quite a bit by relying more on good training and skills development than ‘moar toys = moar better’.
Much of my suggestions below address not just the EDC components of self-defense, but mindset, rehearsal, and the training needed to get through the entire encounter from start to finish– the start being well before you even see a threat, and the finish being after the last bang of a gavel declaring you innocent. It’s impossible to talk about gear without talking clearly about the mission, so I’m going to break this down into individual components.
1: Stop the immediate threat. A threat can be anything from a violent attacker to a belligerent drunk. One of my favorite anecdotes came from a Taekwondo grandmaster, when I was a kid and we were pestering him on how he’d deal with a rowdy drunk. ‘I’d buy him a beer and run out the back door’, was his plan. He recognized that it was more important to DE-escalate and then de-part than it was to risk getting thrown in jail for thoroughly trouncing someone over something as dumb and preventable as a bar fight. Are there times you absolutely have to meet force with force, or escalate? Yes. But as a civilian lacking the legal resources or protections afforded to LEOs, even in states without a duty to retreat, I think it behooves you to take whatever measures are prudent and safe to avoid employing a weapon in self-defense. My ego’s not so important I’d hurt someone over them offending it, and I imagine that a prosecuting attorney (PA) is going to be less likely to bring charges in a fight that started with ‘He was trying to leave’ as opposed to ‘They were yelling at each other right before it went down’. It’ll particularly help during a civil trial, too.
To this end, think about what you need not to win a gunfight against a mob of zombies, but what you’ll need to deal with (potentially) 2-3 assailants. A worst-case scenario is getting ambushed or blindsided; your EDC kit should have a pocket knife or compliance tool carried in easy reach if you’re pinned on your back; a hand-carried flashlight to identify dark shadows (I prefer one bright enough to use as a defensive tool, at least 300 lumens); and if your locale allows it, a firearm with a spare magazine and weapon-mounted light. This is often overlooked but a WML is one of the most crucial pieces of gear you can own and is absolutely non-negotiable from a tactical and legal perspective. Arguments for or against backup guns have been made by people much smarter than I, so I’ll leave that an exercise to the reader.
Whatever EDC you use, whether you ‘escalate’ it or not, there is a tradeoff in the narrative that will follow its use. You know that old saw about keeping a glove and ball next to your bat in the trunk, right? That’s there to help frame the narrative of the defensive exercise in YOUR favor. Body armor is perfectly legal in most states, but showing up somewhere and getting into a gunfight while wearing it can lend to an argument of premeditation on your part. It might not be the one thing that makes a PA’s case, but swaying juries is often a matter of lots of little pieces adding up. So consider carefully anything and everything you carry– a carbine in your trunk might be a very useful tool, but that’s a lot of fast talking to a jury later that could be avoided.
2: Maneuver : If you’ve had to use lethal force to defend yourself, neutralizing your attacker might not mean you’re ‘safe’ yet. I am not a lawyer, and I am not going to advise you to stay or go. If you decide you are not in a safe location, you need to be able to articulate your choice to depart from the area to the LEOs who respond to your call. Otherwise you can be charged with fleeing the scene of a crime. Do not go any farther than you absolutely have to in order to get somewhere secure. This is where your situational awareness and physical fitness training are key– don’t just stand there aiming a gun into the sky with a shocked look on your face. Get your back to a wall, perform an administrative reload, and then assess the situation and come up with a plan of action. Your heartrate is going to explode and adrenaline is going to make you shaky, so Maneuvering also means controlling your body’s stress reactions. Do that goofy looking left-right check with your gun at centerline. Your instincts might be to continue fighting, OR to turn and run. You have to overcome these instincts and think through the confrontation as deliberately as possible. The goal here is not to WIN. The goal is to PROTECT others and SURVIVE. That might mean that you have to maneuver on a secondary attacker to make the area secure; it might mean you find a doorway and start running. There are risks to both options, which is why I defer to Massad Ayoob’s expertise here.
3: Communicate to Authorities: Many gun owners train very hard to use their weapons in self-defense, whether they take tactical courses or compete in IDPA to hone those skills. But fewer of us have rehearsed the lines in our head needed to effectively communicate to an LEO or 911 when a bad situation has unfolded. You should always, always have a cell phone of some kind on you, because the instant you’ve neutralized the threat and made it somewhere secure (whether that takes two steps to the side or a run across the street), you need to be communicating to the local authorities. The military issues index cards to troops with 9-Line medevac reports on it; it’s a prudent idea to have something similar on your person, whether in your wallet or tucked into a pocket somewhere. A simple index card that you can read from could save you a LOT of grief down the road. This is from Second Call Defense:
You: Operator, my name is <your name>. I’m at <street address>. I was attacked and feared for my life. There has been a shooting. Send an ambulance and the police. I’ll be <your location at the address>. I’m <physical description> and I’m wearing <description of your clothing>.
Let’s say you’re a white man with a wife and two kids. The call would sound like this:
Operator, my name is Sam Smith. I’m at my home at 123 Main Street. I was attacked and feared for my life. There has been a shooting. Send an ambulance and police. I’ll be standing at the front door with my wife. My children have gone next door to our neighbor’s home. I’m a white male, 6 feet tall with glasses and brown hair. I’m wearing blue jeans and a green t-shirt.
Do not volunteer more information! Anything and everything you say over the phone to a 911 operator is admissible as evidence. People have lost civil suits because they blurted out ‘I’m sorry’ and that was taken as admission of negligence in a civil trial. They’ve been tried in criminal court for saying ‘It was an accident’. Even saying ‘I shot someone’ can change the tone of the 911 call, because it can make you sound like the aggressor. When the cops show up, unless you are holding someone at gunpoint, you should not have the weapon in your hand. Some people say it’s better to set it on the ground; personally I think that invites a lot of risk for anyone wanting to get quick revenge or to steal a firearm. If you’re 100% sure the area’s secure, you can holster it. Otherwise, stay at low ready (and for god’s sake, don’t aim it at the cops or point with it!)
That brings us to:
4: Security, Support, Cooperation: Once you’ve moved somewhere safe and you’ve informed authorities as to your location, it’s time to assess. If you’re potentially dealing with more attackers, it might be wise to barricade the entrance and get low to the ground. Get behind cover (not concealment) and analyze your surroundings to be sure no one can sneak up behind you or ambush you. Your job now is to hole up until your LEOs show up. If you’ve been wounded, or someone else has been wounded, apply aid as needed. Be prepared to treat people for shock or panic. If I were recently the victim of an attack, and I my attacker was neutralized, I would attempt to render to him any aid I reasonably can provide without putting myself or my friends at risk. I might be limited to just walking a wounded individual through the steps needed to administer self-aid, or to ask a nearby onlooker to do so, but it shows you at least tried to render assistance. Obviously don’t lose security on your firearm; you don’t know for sure there aren’t other attackers waiting nearby for you to drop your guard. Pay attention to your surroundings to make sure another attacker isn’t setting up an ambush. If you defend yourself with a firearm and hold your attacker at gunpoint, his friend coming out of the store might completely mis-read the situation.
Tourniquets are nice to have but they’re not very useful if someone’s been shot in the chest. Hemostatic gauze would get in my pack before a tourniquet would. Realistically speaking, cops and paramedics are not going to be far away if there’s an active report of a shooting. I keep spare trauma gear in my car; if I REALLY needed it, I could send someone to get the portable GSW kit for my range bag that stays velcroed inside my trunk. Almost all businesses have essential medical kits, and many of them include things like CPR masks, gauze, and compression bandages. You should be able to improvise a very short-term bandage fairly easily in a pinch, and part of your EDC loadout should include the skills to apply trauma care AND keeping those skills fresh. I have a 50′ length of 550 cord on my wrist that I can easily cut up and improvise into a tourniquet.
Finally, remember the cops are going to show up and probably arrest everyone. You’ll get cuffed, you’ll be asked to make a statement. Ayoob advocates making a simple complaint and signing it; ‘I was attacked by those individuals over there, and I defended myself’. Other legal experts actually suggest requesting the cops place you in protective custody for your own safety. That makes you the victim in the incident. After giving your initial short statement, you can say ‘I’m tired and not thinking clearly; I want to speak with a lawyer before I answer any other questions’. This is not done to be evasive, but because in the heat of the moment you might mis-speak or recollect things incorrectly. You should not answer any questions until you’ve had time for the emotional shock to wear off and a lawyer to advise you.
EDC kits should be about getting you to a better position. That’s all. You’re not a cop responding regularly to violent incidents; you’re not likely to need to charge into a building and render aid in a mass-cas event (and a single tourniquet isn’t going to do much good anyway). Your EDC should be as trim and light as possible, and focused on the essentials needed to Neutralize the threat, Move somewhere safe, Communicate to LEOs, and Secure your immediate area. Trying to jam the entire contents of a patrol officer’s duty belt into your cargo pants is very cumbersome and tends to make you stand out in a crowd. Every item you carry should have a specific purpose and more importantly, you absolutely should have the training to back up everything on your person.