We here at the USCCA emphasize conflict avoidance and situational awareness as the cornerstones of effective self-defense. Without them, all a person can hope to do is react quickly when it might already be too late. That said, difficulties arise when good people — honest, law-abiding people — travel outside of their usual areas of operation into areas where they might be unfamiliar with the social norms and communication styles. Never forget that, on a large enough scale, almost nowhere is like where you’re from.

Down Home

Personally, my people are from a little bit of all over the place. As such, visits to different relatives take on distinctly different flavors when I’m out on the road. Though I’ve far from visited every last corner of this great nation, over the decades, I’ve noticed that there are definite commonalities across the board, whether you find yourself stopping for gas in a North Chicago war zone or a lone Ozark crossroads.

In this, I will be detailing exactly what the alert traveler needs to understand to effectively avoid trouble while away from home. I’ll be skipping over the basics — be polite, smile, don’t make insulting jokes, etc. — but I’ve noticed that there are a few pointers from which a surprising number of people could learn.

Be Real

Everyone already knows you’re from out of town, and this is true everywhere — from the hyper-urban to the hyper-rural. Whether you find yourself in Philly or Festus, chances are everyone you see working in a bar, store or gas station will have their regulars. Don’t advertise the fact that you’re not from those parts, but understand that it’s patently useless to try to “act local.” Blending in is about the best you might be able to manage, but if you think you’re good enough to fool a native into thinking you’re just one of their neighbors they’ve never seen, you’re making a big mistake.

Be Ready to Talk

Some people will be waiting for you; this might be good … or it might be bad. Some people, specifically senior citizens who meet for coffee and breakfast sandwiches at 5 in the morning, will be sitting at the local gas station waiting for whatever comes down the pike. If you walk into that gas station — their realm — they might pepper you with questions, ranging everywhere from who you are to what you’re doing there to where you’re from to whether you’re related to anyone in the area. This isn’t out-of-the-gate predatory behavior. In my experience, the locals want to know who you are and what you’re doing there in order to protect themselves and theirs, not in an attempt to somehow victimize or rob you.

Moreover — and this will be a no-brainer for many readers — just because you can hardly understand them and they’re dressed as you imagine a cartoon “hillbilly” doesn’t mean they intend to rob or murder you. I’m going to leave it at that, as I’ve got friends and relations that millions in this country would never guess would happily siphon the fuel out of their own vehicles to get a stranger back on the road, be it out of Hindman, Kentucky, or Ventura Beach, California.

As mentioned, this might also be bad. Attorney and USCCA contributor Andrew Branca calls gas stations “modern-day watering holes,” in that predators will gather there understanding that prey will have to stop sooner or later. Your vehicle needs fuel, and your desire to not become a registered sex offender mandates that you find somewhere with a restroom. Keep your eyes open, stay in well-lit areas and spend no more time operating in the dark than is absolutely necessary.

Listen to Reason

Wherever you are, you need to understand that you simply must follow all lawful orders — and not just from cops. One of my great-aunts once shot a man in the stomach and backside with a shotgun that, fortunately for the recipient, was loaded with rock salt rather than buckshot. She told him twice to go away and he didn’t, so she lit him up.

Before I go any further, I want to categorically condemn the use of old-style “rock salt loads” under any circumstances. There just isn’t any place for them in the current use-of-force environment. Moreover, shooting someone simply because he or she does not follow your orders to “get off your property” is also unacceptable. Never forget that deadly force is not justifiable unless you or someone else is faced with an imminent, unavoidable threat of death or great bodily harm, and what follows would not meet those standards in most any court in this country.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the story:

A brown leather wallet, a black kar key and fob and a folded paper road map lying on a white surface

Make sure politeness and common sense are on your packing list.

Sometime before World War II, she was at home alone when a man began walking up the hill toward the house. My great-aunt — a teenager at the time — hollered out the door that the man needed to immediately get off of the property. The man did not but rather kept approaching the house, so she shot him with the shotgun that her father had left loaded for her. She shot him once in the front as he was moving toward her and then once in the back as he was moving away from her.

Now, in that part of the world at that time, that was a reasonable reaction. She didn’t know him from the man in the damned moon. He was walking up toward her house that, at the moment, contained only a teenage girl. Her family was involved in law enforcement, and she didn’t see a badge on the stranger, nor did he identify himself in any way. He hadn’t even acknowledged her repeated demands that he leave, so she shot him. Twice.

She understood exactly what that man might have been up to, and more importantly, she understood what honest, law-abiding persons did in her neck of the woods: Identify themselves from a ways off, wave and always heed warnings to get the heck off of someone else’s land when instructed to do so. I’ve heard versions of this story in which the stranger was wearing a gun belt and versions in which he wasn’t, but — either way — she warned him that she didn’t want anything to do with him, and he didn’t identify himself as anyone who had any business on her family’s property, official or otherwise.

Times Have Changed

Now picture yourself walking up to her granddaughter’s house in that same holler 80 years later looking to use a phone.

You have no evil intent, nor have you ever. You weren’t even speeding when your car broke down. All you need to do is find a phone because your car’s battery is dead and so is your cellphone, and this was the first driveway to which you came.

Let me tell you something: Whether you’re in Knott County, Kentucky, or Cook County, Illinois, if someone tells you to scram, you’d better slowly raise both hands and back away.

Never forget that you are a visitor to the area. You’re not from there. You might see your “adventures” or your “exploring” or your whatever as light-hearted ramblings and nothing but life-expanding fun, but you need to internalize, right now, that you likely live with a different reality than a lot of other folks in this country. We’re extremely pro-law-enforcement here at the USCCA, but you need to understand that a lot of other people aren’t.

If you feel like you shouldn’t be there, you shouldn’t. If someone tells you that you need to go, leave. When it comes to a circumstance that could turn violent at the drop of a hammer, pride tastes delicious.

We’re All in This Together

Let’s all bear in mind that most people in this country are anywhere from all right to wonderful. (If most of the people in this country were rotten, you’d have noticed it by now.) Wherever you find yourself, understand that almost everyone there is as tired of the local criminal element as you are, and almost every last one of them wants to either help you or just be left alone. If you comport yourself as a gentleman or lady — if you pay your tabs and tip well and say “please” and “thank you” — your chances of causing trouble for yourself drop to almost zero.

The best fight is the one you’re never in, and the best attack is the one that never takes place. As responsibly armed Americans, we repeat this to anyone who will listen. Certain behaviors and circumstances, however, can help trouble find you.