CCW Rules of Engagement & Disengagement – USCCA

Person with concealed carry must follow certain rules of engagement and disengagement. This article will help us in determining those rules.

At every turn of a card, you have a choice. You can deal with the new information rationally and use it logically to plan your next move, or you can ‘feel’ your way to calamity.

Anyone who would want to shoot somebody is either extremely naïve or insane. Once the trigger is pulled, the consequences are grave and irrevocable. Bullets cannot be taken back. Using a gun as a social problem-solving tool in a non-war environment is a very last resort for the gravest of extremes. Therefore, because the potential for petty conflict in today’s society is high, carrying a firearm for self-defense requires that you adhere to a higher standard of care than if you were to go unarmed.

As an armed citizen, you must exercise good judgment and behave in a responsible manner at all times. Judgment refers to decision making ability; being able to find and evaluate the essential facts in a situation and come to a conclusion about what to do that is adaptive, smart, and healthy. Being responsible refers to being willing and able to take charge and be accountable for your actions.


Being prepared to employ lethal force if necessary, does not give you a license to be a cowboy or cowgirl, whichever the case may be.


Anything that clouds or dampens your judgment does not mix with firearms. This is why alcohol does not mix with operating motor vehicles or carrying a firearm. In fact, anything that is associated with excessive exuberance, the potential for erratic behavior, or unnecessary attention directed at you, does not mix with carrying a gun.

The rule of thumb is to minimize your exposure. That means don’t go to stupid places that are magnets for rowdy people and where people get excited, confrontational, or belligerent (e.g., sleazy bars, rock concerts, political rallies). Don’t hang out with stupid and impulsive people, and don’t do stupid things. Any confrontation you have when you are carrying is a gunfight. This is because there is at least one gun present—yours!

Carrying a gun should not be what gives you courage. As an armed citizen, you have less not more latitude to behave in a reckless or brash manner. Holstered courage is for fools only, and fools should not be carrying firearms.

If you carry a concealed firearm, you must certainly be prepared to use lethal force if that is your only viable option in an extreme social situation. The fact that you are carrying unfortunately does not impart to you any sort of magical repellent power. If your handgun is concealed, as it should be, it is your ace in the hole should your back be up against a wall. On the other hand, if you are known to be carrying, you give up the valuable element of surprise.

Being prepared to employ lethal force if necessary, does not give you a license to be a cowboy or cowgirl, whichever the case may be. In order to justify the use of lethal force, and in order to be able to establish an affirmative defense of self-defense, you must follow certain rules of engagement.

I recently came across a short little booklet on this topic authored by firearms expert, Chuck Klein, entitled, Klein’s C.C.W. Handbook: The Requisite for those who Carry Concealed Weapons. In my opinion, this excellent guidebook should be in the library of everyone who carries. Klein even recommends carrying it with you when you carry. At minimum, I recommend that you commit Klein’s Rules of Engagement to memory. Klein states:

“In order to justify the use of lethal force, i.e., establishing the defense of self-defense, the discharge of a firearm at another person shall be instituted only when AL of the following apply:”

  1. “You were not at fault or did not create the situation that gave rise to the taking of another’s life.”
  2. “You believe you were in danger of imminent death or great bodily harm.”
  3. “You must not have violated any opportunity to retreat or avoid the danger.”
  4. “You have exhausted all other means to avoid the use of deadly force.”
  5. “The use of deadly force presents no substantial risk of injury to innocent persons.”

Rule #1: You were not at fault.

“You can’t start the fight or egg someone on so that when they attack you, you then bring out the hardware.” You have to stay cool at all times! You must know how to back off and back down if necessary. “Because you’re carrying the ace-in-the-hole you must never be the aggressor.” Anything you do to escalate the confrontation adds to your responsibility for what ultimately happens.

For example, another driver with road rage thinks I cut him off. He pulls up beside me at the next stop sign and aggressively demands to know why I cut him off. I capitulate by telling him, “I am sorry. I thought I had enough distance. I didn’t mean to cut you off. I am really sorry.” He drives away. If I didn’t capitulate, and the situation turned really bad, I could be deemed the aggressor in the eyes of the law. On the other hand, if he did not accept my apology, and he got out of his car, I could drive away.

Rule #2: You believe you were in danger of imminent death or great bodily harm.

The key is what you believe to be the case at the time. Do you have reasonable grounds to believe the threat is real?

Firstly, does the attacker appear to have the ability to cause you irrevocable harm? Here we are talking about disparity of force. Ability can refer to:

(a) force of numbers, i.e., more of them than you;

(b) able bodied against the disabled;

(c) male against female, i.e., men are typically stronger and more aggressive than women;

(d) young against old;

(e) bigger and stronger against smaller and weaker;

(f) trained vs. untrained, i.e., if your opponent is known to you to be a boxer, special forces, black belt, etc. prior to your using your firearm. Note: You cannot use this criterion if you did not know your opponent’s training prior to killing him!

Secondly, does the attacker have the immediate opportunity to cause you irrevocable harm? Is he capable of immediately employing his power to seriously hurt you?

Thirdly, is your opponent acting in such a manner (by words and by deeds) that a reasonable and prudent person would conclude that he harbors intent to kill or cripple you? In other words, are his actions placing you in imminent jeopardy?

Rule #3: You have not violated any opportunity to retreat or avoid the danger if you can in the first place.

Firearms trainer and author, John Farnam, teaches that you must do what you can to disengage safely at the earliest point in a confrontation or potential confrontation. The best sort of disengagement is to not be there in the first place! Avoid confrontations by making your exit at the first hint of trouble.

Farnam teaches that avoidance has several layers. The first layer is to not be where the confrontation is in the first place. The second layer is to leave before a potentially bad situation turns worse and goes in the toilet. The third layer is functional invisibility. This means you should try not to turn heads. Live a “stealth existence” below the radar. Finally, the fourth layer is to act in a decisive, deliberate, confident, and assertive manner so that you are consistently de-selected for victimization.

Identify the exits every time you enter a place. Look around the room and notice who is noticing you. Never turn down eye contact. Look decisive, alert and strong. Keep your head up. Also, immediately before and after you get in and out of a motor vehicle, look around. Parking lots and driveways are places where victims are often selected. That is where people unwittingly tend to get distracted as their focus is divided and they are not paying attention—so their level of awareness goes down.

If you are in a restaurant or movie theater, leave at the first sign of trouble. Don’t just look around—see! Study everything carefully.

The other day, I was eating in a diner with my wife and daughter when a man at the next table began to get loud and belligerent with his companions. I told my wife and daughter “let’s get out of here” and we got up and left. Should that problem have escalated, I wanted us to be far away before the situation went into the toilet. In fact, we have an agreement that if we are any place where there is any indication of developing excitement, we are out of there! The kind of witness we want to be, if ever questioned by the police, is the type who left at least five minutes before the thing happened!

This advice is especially important for the elderly, women and children—as these groups are typically selected by predators for victimization.

Rule #4: You have exhausted all other means to avoid the use of deadly force.

You are not justified in shooting a knife-wielding aggressor if you can drive away. If you cannot, that is another story. But, you must avail yourself of other options if you safely can before you resort to using deadly force.

So, let us say you are selected for victimization. You want to disengage at the first opportunity if possible before the situation escalates. Most predators want easy prey. Don’t make it easy for predators!

John Farnam teaches that if you are walking down the street and you are approached by a stranger, keep moving. Walk right on through. Do not stop in the spot that the potential predator has chosen. You are probably being set up. Politely dismiss him with pre-rehearsed verbal tape loops. And do not answer his questions.

These tape loops should be practiced so that they can be reeled off whenever the need may arise. For example, you are asked for spare change. Your response should be something like: “I’m sorry sir. I can’t help you.” Or, let us say you are approached for directions. Your response should be something like: “I’m sorry sir. I can’t help you.” The point is that whatever the request is, your response should be the same. And you should keep moving as you respond verbally and make brief eye contact. Be firm but polite, and radiate strength. Remember that prey behavior excites predators. So act assertively and confident. Right action—right mind.

Failing that? Farnam wisely points out that you want to divide the potential predator’s focus and disrupt his plan. So, you can point down at the ground just behind the person, with your support hand and away from your gun side as you verbalize with excitement something to the effect of “Oh–oh! Look out!” Then move around him.

Failing that? Escalate the ante. Verbalize something like “Get away from me! Leave me alone!” Then break contact and disengage.

Failing that? Some intermediate, nonlethal form of persuasion may be called for, such as a blast of pepper spray in the predator’s face. If you carry a gun, you should carry pepper spray.

Remember that your goal is to keep from getting hurt. You work your way up the force continuum if that is safe and possible. If you have no other option than to resort to deadly force, you still want to find a way out of the gravest extreme safely if possible. If you have time and can draw your firearm and not use it, this is infinitely better than the grave alternative.

Just because you draw your gun does not mean you have to shoot. It means you must be prepared to shoot if you must (i.e., you have no other viable choice). If there’s time, and it’s still safe to do so, drawing on the threat and shouting a challenge such as “Please! Don’t move! Drop your weapon!” and then evaluating your situation is infinitely better than letting it rip. Announce your orders with a loud, aggressive, self-assured voice. Be convincing!

Rule #5: The use of deadly force presents no substantial risk of injury to innocent persons.

What if deadly force is your only option? You still must consider where you are and who is around you. But keep in mind that you, the lawfully armed and trained citizen with a moral conscience, present a much safer bet of protecting innocent bystanders if the situation goes in the toilet than does the amoral criminal predator.

Words of Wisdom

John Farnam in a recent e-mail communication wisely states:

“Only victims are victimized. People with patterns of loser behavior, such as whining, sniveling, self-pity, blame-shifting, rationalizing, excuse making, and never taking personal responsibility for their own actions encourage victimizers to select them for victimization. Conversely, winners always look and act as if they are walking on sunshine, even when they are inwardly troubled. Victimizers customarily pass them by.

Think, don’t feel. Ask yourself, ‘How can I use this information to improve my situation?’ Never ask yourself, ‘How does this information make me feel?’ Those who are enslaved by their emotions and ‘feelings’ are perpetual losers. They are universally regarded as weaklings, and are thus consistently selected for victimization. They only care about ‘feeling good,’ and they are deathly afraid of ‘feeling bad.’ They therefore predictably act exclusively according to that interest.

At every turn of a card, you have a choice. You can deal with the new information rationally and use it logically to plan your next move, or you can ‘feel’ your way to calamity. You have a choice: You can use the information to improve your play, or you can use it to alter your mood. You can think your way to victory, or you can wallow in fantasyland, where everything that makes you feel bad is displayed on an imaginary scoreboard, labeled ‘How I feel right now!’”


Massad Ayoob (1980). In the Gravest Extreme:
The Role of the Firearm in Personal Protection.
Concord, NH : Police Bookshelf.
&Chuck Klein (1998). Klein’s C.C.W. Handbook:
The Requisite for those who Carry Concealed
Weapons. Lonedell, MO : Accurate Press.
Phone: 800-374-4049.
John Farnam (2007). Personal e-mail
communication and Defensive Handgun Seminar.
Defense Training International.
Phone: 970-482-2520.
John Farnam (2005). The Farnam Method of
Defensive Handgunning. (2nd Ed.). Boulder,
CO : DTI Publications.


[ Bruce N. Eimer, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist, NRA Certified Firearms Instructor, Florida and Utah Concealed Firearms Instructor, and a Professional Writer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a co-owner of Personal Defense Solutions, LLC, Bruce offers individual shooting instruction and teaches concealed carry and handgun safety classes that prepare people to apply for the Florida Non-Resident Concealed Carry Permit which is honored by 28 states. ]

For more information, he can be reached

by phone at 215-938-7283
by e-mail at


For a schedule of upcoming classes, you can log on to the PDS website:

Bruce is also the co-author of the “Essential Guide to Handguns: Firearm Instruction for Personal Defense and Protection.”