“By the book” can get you killed.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about not drawing your firearm unless you need to shoot. I even see firearms instructors telling their students that this is a hard rule. While this is a good rule of thumb, nothing is black and white. If you’re approached by an armed person who is aggressive and has an unknown intent, there is nothing wrong with using your firearm to control the situation. This does not mean you have to shoot them, as these types of incidents are dynamic and fluid.

Scenario: A man with a knife gets the drop on you as you’re leaving the ATM. He says to give him your wallet. Compliance is good, as you’re only dealing with money at this point. So toss your wallet away from both of you and back away. As he reaches for the wallet and breaks his concentration on what you’re doing, what are your next steps?

A) Let him take the wallet and run, never drawing your firearm.

B) Draw your firearm and issue commands.

C) Draw your firearm and shoot.

At this point, I would hope that everyone answered B, as that would be the safest choice for you. Why? Because this will allow you to control the situation. You do not know the intent of the attacker. They may want to remove you as a witness after they get your wallet. Without having your gun already out, you’re at a very severe disadvantage. What if they run away when you draw your firearm? If they run away, you’ve just changed the entire scenario and are no longer under attack and the attacker is no longer a threat. At this time you should consider holstering your firearm and calling the police so they can come take a report and look for the attacker.

Some people will say that they don’t want to get in trouble for showing their gun. Honestly, if there is a need to use your firearm, use it. It’s better to have to answer some questions with the cops than be dead or seriously hurt. If the guy runs away, you fill out a report. If the guy allows you to issue commands and he stays for the cops, you fill out a report. If he stabs you so many times you die, well… you get to skip the paperwork, but instead your family will be filling out the report.

The problem with choosing A, as some instructors tell you to do, is you never gain control of the situation. Do not think of it as you have a choice, instead you should react to the persons level of force, and nothing more. If they do X, you do Y. This is how a Force Continuum should work, and how it does work most of the time for police departments all over the world. Meeting their level of force or intended level of force is entirely appropriate. If they show a weapon and you believe they have intent to do you harm, it’s entirely within your scope of personal responsibility and liability to also show your firearm. This doesn’t mean that you draw down on the guy roid raging at you. But if that situations turns into a physical escalation of force by the attacker, then you would and should make your own intent known. Your intent is to protect yourself from violent attacks.

The other issue with living in a black and white world is you get it in your head that any time you draw, you’re going to shoot. There may be an encounter where you do need to shoot, but as your gun becomes known to the attacker they change their attitude and break off the attack. They are now no longer a threat, but in your mind you’ve committed yourself to shooting because that’s how you trained yourself (remember that training is mostly mental). If you tell yourself every day that you only draw when you need to shoot two bad things can happen. You can either allow a situation to escalate so much that you need to shoot, which could have been quelled much sooner by showing a firearm. Or you could shoot when you didn’t need to. Both of these are bad, although not necessarily illegal, depending on the circumstances.

You will never learn how to carry a gun and properly deal with all situations from taking a class. The only way to hope to do the right thing is to use your brain. Use your brain to not only think on the fly as events happen, but also to mentally train yourself in mock situations that you build in your head. Do not let the ATM scenario play out for the first time in real life. Do it in your head over and over until you work up a good response to most types of attacks. Obviously you can’t cover everything, and there’s no substitute for real training, but this is a good way to break up your morning commute or other boring tasks.

This is where my topic comes in. Do not let a single instructor drill it into your head that things will and are going to happen a certain way, and that’s it. There may be a scenario where I don’t draw a firearm when someone steals my wallet from me at an ATM, but I can’t think of it yet. Hopefully I’ll use my brain if I’m ever in such a situation and come out doing the right thing. For now, all of the scenarios I’ve run through in my head, I always draw my firearm to gain control of that situation.

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Greg Ryman is a certified NRA instructor and RSO. He is also a California DOJ Certified Handgun Safety Instructor and a Certified Glock Armorer. Greg has been shooting for over 20 years and is the owner of Ryman Tactical.

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