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Blend In: Embracing the Gray Man Mentality

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You’ve seen him in public. I’m talking about the guy in khaki cargo pants and a T-shirt splashed with some guns-and-death-related witticism about stacking bodies. Or the dude with an “operator beard” and gun-company shirt open carrying his Glock while grocery shopping. And don’t forget the one wearing the “shoot-me-first” photographer vest. Odds are that you have encountered one of these individuals. This clothing and swagger screams, “Look at me! I have a gun!”

This behavior indicates foolish and reckless carry practices. We train and take firearms ownership seriously, and for a good reason. Who among us is not familiar with the adage, “With great power comes great responsibility”? (We can argue whether it’s attributed to Voltaire, Winston Churchill or Spider-Man another time.) When it comes to concealed carry, that maxim easily could be amended to say, “With carrying a firearm comes great responsibility.” Carrying is an enormous, life-changing responsibility. We need to respect that.

Therefore, part of being a responsible firearms owner is embracing the Gray Man Theory. This is the simple act of blending into the masses and not looking or acting abnormally. Whether you’re in a large crowd or a small group, you should strive to conceal yourself. The point of this is to avoid showcasing that you’re carrying a gun and are trained to use it. This enables you to move quickly and effectively in case of emergency, allowing you to defend your life and the lives of your loved ones. Why would you intentionally give away that advantage?

The Correct Wardrobe

There is one school of thought that teaches wearing muted colors to give the appearance of being unthreatening in order to blend in. Personally, I take issue with that approach. Your wardrobe should be casual, but there’s no need to wear only earth tones or burlap sacks as shirts. That makes you stand out too. Wear what you could expect others in your area to wear. The best way to blend in is by looking like everyone else.

Don’t wear the aforementioned “shoot-me-first” vest, typically khaki with numerous pockets. It’s basically the tactical cargo pants of the vest world. Lately, Hawaiian shirts have become in vogue for guys who carry too. I was used to seeing friends who teach at Gunsite wearing them, but I’ve noticed this past year they’re catching on elsewhere. Look at it this way: As soon as a certain type of clothing becomes recognizable as gun-owner-wear by the general public, you should reconsider wearing it.

Now that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to become a target if you’re out and about sporting this type of clothing. But what sense is there in attracting unnecessary attention? That doesn’t sound like an effective tactic to me.

Wear what you could expect others in your area to wear. The best way to blend in is by looking like everyone else.

Sarcastic, snarky shirts are a large part of my wardrobe. The plain truth is that I just enjoy them, but they also offer a certain level of camouflage. Is the woman with the dyed-blue hair and “OMG Becky, Look at His Beard” shirt the first one a predator sees as a possible threat? Not likely. The same goes for a good friend of mine who dresses in business casual attire. He doesn’t have the appearance of someone who can out-shoot and outthink the vast majority of gun owners.

Sometimes outfits can provide a disguise, but they can cross the line and blow your cover at other times. I’m referring to the countless bad-boy-swagger shirts you see advertised everywhere online. There’s nothing wrong with a little humor or American pride, but it isn’t in your best interest to walk around advertising wishes for “watering the tree of liberty with blood.” Moreover, have you ever stopped to consider how wearing a shirt like this might affect you in the legal proceedings that could follow a self-defense shooting? It makes more sense to avoid wearing clothing that makes you appear not only prepared for violence but also as though you’re eagerly seeking it out.

Stop and think about the kind of first impression you’re making on random people, law enforcement and potential witnesses. Believing that it doesn’t matter or blowing it off as “their problem, not mine” is an immature, irresponsible attitude. Presenting yourself in a cocky manner doesn’t help you protect yourself or others, and it could actually create problems.

ALOHA: Hawaiian shirts go in and out of vogue, both in general fashion and in the firearms world.

The Right Body Language

One of the worst pieces of advice out there in the self-defense world regarding the Gray Man Theory is that you should avoid eye contact. That is not only ludicrous but also completely illogical. Being innocuous and blending in doesn’t mean staring at the ground or off into space. If you don’t make eye contact with people but instead obviously look away, you’re drawing more attention to yourself by acting fidgety and uneasy. Conversely, it is typically a bad idea to hold prolonged, direct eye contact, which is a threat in almost all cultures and among almost all species.

Learning to pay attention to your surroundings is a skill you — and all gun owners — should master. You’re far more likely to see trouble coming if you are vigilant and observant, but appearing overly alert and attentive is a good way to stand out. It is possible to be aware, confident and project strength without breaking the concept of the Gray Man. I’m also obviously not saying you should remain engrossed in your phone and oblivious to your surroundings either. Being the Gray Man doesn’t mean turning yourself into bait or looking like a victim.

If you want a greater understanding of the subject, you should take a course from someone like Dr. William Aprill of Aprill Risk Consulting, a talented speaker who possesses a wealth of knowledge on violent offenders, criminal behavior and body language. This harkens back to the need for solid training — and not just training to shoot well.

How Are You Carrying?

Don’t go flaunting your firearm to make a public statement. There are gun groups on and off of social media dedicated to the belief that you can — and must — open carry everything from Glocks to AKs, not for a tactical advantage but because it is the way our Founding Fathers wanted it.

I’ve got news for you: They did not.

Open carry has little to do with supporting gun rights and can, in fact, have the opposite effect. To those undecideds whom you might have a chance of getting to support gun rights through calm, rational means, aggressive open carry is a negative, inflammatory agitation. You’re not furthering gun rights by wearing an AR-15 through Walmart. You’re part of the problem.

Understand these are skills that can be lost as quickly as a runner loses endurance and lung capacity when he or she doesn’t train. You must continue to train to sustain these skills.

There are circumstances under which I’ll open carry while hunting or working around my property or during certain gun classes. But when it comes time to mingle in public, I make concealment a priority. Concealing your gun gives you a significant tactical advantage, so find a good holster, use a quality gun belt and get accustomed to the feel of concealed carry and to working from that rig. Concealment does no good if you bungle the draw because you haven’t trained how to execute it.

It is essential to train appropriately. Acquiring and maintaining your skills — and here I’m talking not only about firearms but also about edged weapons, force-on-force and first aid if possible — is all a part of “going gray.” It won’t do you much good to master the art of blending in if you’re unable to smoothly and rapidly draw your firearm from your carry holster or retain your firearm. If you don’t understand the legalities involved in carrying a gun for self-defense purposes, you’re also missing a big chunk of valuable knowledge.

Don’t just take a class once or twice, either; train consistently. Understand these are skills that can be lost as quickly as a runner loses endurance and lung capacity when he or she doesn’t train. You must continue to train to sustain these skills.

My Two Cents

There is an oddly pervasive belief that being the Gray Man requires you to all but disappear or that “going gray” is enlisting in the tinfoil-hat brigade. It is not. It is, of course, possible to take blending in a bit too far and, in doing so, make yourself stand out.

In reality, maintaining a low profile in the world of concealed carry is mostly about not drawing attention to yourself. If the clothes you wear immediately give you away as carrying a concealed handgun or cause you to appear otherwise suspicious, that’s a fail. Body language can also contribute to blowing your cover, and open carry has no benefit.

It’s important to be the Gray Man, but it’s even more important to do it right.

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