Stay on the Ball: Considerations for Vacation and Business Travel

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There are three major issues permit holders face while on the road for vacation or business beyond those encountered in their normal daily routines. While some common threads run through all potential self-defense situations, the fact that you are traveling away from your home turf adds some different dynamics to lawful carry of a concealed firearm.

Any time you travel away from home — especially out of state — you find yourself at an increased risk of attack. You “ain’t from around these parts,” as they say, and it shows. The second issue is the need to be even more discreet than usual. It is critical that your carry goes undetected. The third is dealing with law enforcement officers from outside of your usual jurisdiction, be it city, county or state. Each issue presents its own challenges. We’ll address them one by one.

The Pitts

I attended the USCCA’s 2019 Concealed Carry Expo in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I had never been to downtown Pittsburgh, and the Drury Inn and Suites at which my buddies and I were staying was tucked away on one of the very narrow streets. The hotel was retrofitted into a former federal reserve bank building originally built in the 1930s. There are three huge bank vaults in the basement as well as street-side gun ports for guards. It’s 100 percent worth checking out if you’re in the area, but we had a problem finding it. The fact that it looked nothing like a standard Drury Inn didn’t help.

Pittsburgh is a very old town, with streets that were designed for horse-drawn carriages. The modern buildings tower over the streets, creating stone, steel and glass canyons that canceled out my phone’s GPS signal. It took a lot of passes to find the driveway into the Drury parking lot.

We were unable to really keep an eye on everything around us like we normally would while on our home turf. That, coupled with our Ohio license plates, likely made us potential targets for criminals watching our activities. And the potential to become a target would have been even higher had I been alone.

Dead Giveaways

We may think we aren’t being obvious while traveling, but we are. It’s hard not to be. While traveling, we’re likely anxious or concerned, and we definitely won’t be executing the same driving maneuvers as the locals. We’re also probably doing a lot of rubbernecking in all directions as we try to find our destination. If you’ve never had the experience, you’re missing out. Trying to drive with the locals in, say, Washington, D.C., makes the differences readily apparent.

GPS system or no, you’re essentially lost for the entire time you’re traveling unless you’ve frequented the area. This is especially true at night since you generally don’t know where anything that you’re looking for is. Noted firearms trainer Clint Smith said it best: “If you look like food, you will be eaten.” And to a violent criminal, a lost person certainly looks like food.

The “food” signals that travelers emit don’t end with out-of-state license plates. It’s also rental car stickers, GPS or smartphones mounted on the dash or windshield, luggage stacked in a car or on a roof carrier, trailers or boxes for extra gear on trailer hitches, and family and pets in the car. Suit carriers, laptop cases, briefcases and more professional levels of attire give away business travelers who are on foot.

Noted firearms trainer Clint Smith said it best: “If you look like food, you will be eaten.” And to a violent criminal, a lost person certainly looks like food.

Tourist and business destinations are often magnets for pickpockets, con-artists and thieves — or worse. Locations like rest areas, gas stations, truck stops and fast food restaurants will be places where the predatory individual is likely to wait for prey en route to his or her destination.

Business travelers almost always stay in hotels — and often nicer ones — and frequent higher-end restaurants. People are usually focused on whatever reason the job sent them wherever they are, so attention is drawn away from potential predators. Any business or vacation traveler taking rail or other public transit systems increases his or her exposure to opportunistic criminal attack.

Ever hear of the “knockout game?” This activity is popular among certain types of thugs who approach a person sized up as being unable to defend himself or herself and set the stranger up for an attack. The suspects often work in teams of two or more.

While one of the team distracts the target, another one circles around and punches the victim in the head as hard as he or she can, hoping to knock out the victim with one punch. Usually, one of the members is filming the attack for social media. So, what can we do to limit our exposure to these types of attack while visiting unfamiliar destinations?

A lack of situational awareness increases criminal opportunity, especially for pickpockets or those looking for someone to assault. Today, gas stations even provide video distractions right on the pumps. Don’t watch that useless drivel. Watch for everything going on around you.

Make Some Changes

One of the most important actions we can take to reduce criminal vulnerability is “target-hardening,” which will reduce criminal opportunity and desire. Target-hardening is normally applied to fixed structures. But by personal target-hardening, we are giving ourselves more opportunity to react to threats — threats who will either become hesitant to carry out an attack or abandon any attempt based on the perception of the hardened victim.

Like predators in the wild, criminals are lazy. The lion doesn’t wake up thinking, “I’m hungry, but I’d like some sport in getting my next meal. I think I’ll try to find the strongest gazelle in the herd.” It wakes up and goes after the youngest, oldest or otherwise weakest gazelle because it doesn’t want to work too hard. If we look like too much work, the predator who was interested in us will likely look elsewhere. Fortunately, actions you can take to proactively harden yourself as a target are easy to execute.

Study up on your destination in advance. Don’t go to it cold, and don’t rely solely on your GPS to get you there. For the last few years, I’ve been packing a current Rand McNally Road Atlas in my car to back up my GPS. Your GPS or phone can fail or get lost or stolen.

Also, always survey any new destination using the “Street View” function to see if there are areas of concern nearby. I always do this when choosing a hotel. Areas with pawn shops, seedy bars, closed businesses, graffiti, piles of trash or homeless encampments are nowhere you want to stay.

Like predators in the wild, criminals are lazy. They go after the youngest, oldest or otherwise weakest because they don’t want to work too hard. If we look like too much work, the predator who was interested in us will likely look elsewhere

Pay attention. It drives me nuts to watch folks stand in line at fast food restaurants or gas stations while engrossed in “smart” devices (including smartwatches) instead of watching who has come in the door or who is standing next to them. A lack of situational awareness increases criminal opportunity, especially for pickpockets or those looking for someone to assault. Today, gas stations even provide video distractions right on the pumps. Don’t watch that useless drivel. Watch for everything going on around you.

I was lax about it until recently, but now I always keep my car doors locked. In fact, the first thing I do when I get in my vehicle is lock the doors — not rearrange my gear or find the Sirius XM channel I want. I lock first and do everything else afterward.

Stay ready to counter a threat. If your “spidey sense” is tingling, that means it’s time to move to action, not reaction. Make an obvious movement to confront the threat before it gets too close. Square off and make a challenge; something like “Don’t come any closer” will do nicely. Don’t try to pretend a person with threatening vibes doesn’t exist and hope he or she will go away.

Making ready can also mean moving your hand to your gun. If the threat doesn’t take the hint, then it’s time to draw, holding your weapon visibly at your side at first. If the threat doesn’t disappear, you may, unfortunately, need to take the final step. This plan of action presupposes that you carry your gun in a location where access is easy. If you are forced to draw, call the police as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Remain Discreet

I am strongly opposed to open carry, as doing so makes you as big a target as a uniformed officer on the street but doesn’t afford you the advantages of being a sworn-in law enforcement officer. While carrying discreetly should always be the standard approach, it becomes more important while you’re away from home for vacation or business.

First, you may find yourself in a jurisdiction where local LEOs are not quite as understanding about concealed carry permit holders as the officers back home are. These officers might not react too kindly to non-cops (or even off-duty cops) carrying guns, regardless of what the law is. While the street officer might be open-minded, department and city administrations might not be. Ever hear of Portland, Oregon? What might the reaction to an out-of-state concealed carry permit holder be there? Even as an off-duty cop, I wouldn’t want to find out.

I am strongly opposed to open carry, as doing so makes you as big a target as a uniformed officer on the street but doesn’t afford you the advantages of being a sworn-in law enforcement officer.

Conversely, not all locales you’d expect to be pro-gun turn out to be so. Even before the horrific attack in Las Vegas, the city was not pro-gun, though many think of it as “out West.” You might just want to carry a smaller gun than you normally would at home to keep the fact that you are armed as private as possible.

The business traveler must also consider how those with whom he or she will be meeting might react to finding out one of their associates is carrying a firearm. Though your safety is of paramount importance, the wrong person detecting your handgun might just ruin whatever deal you are trying to make. You can also be sure that the home office that sent you will hear about it.

The same is true of attending any business-related conferences: All it might take is one person discovering you’re armed. And in these environments, being discreet also means not talking about firearms, even if you are speaking with a fellow firearms supporter. The conversation may be overheard by someone who isn’t.

For business travelers in particular, a handgun such as the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380, a small-frame .38 Special revolver, the Kel-Tec P3AT in .380 or the Kel-Tec P32 in .32 ACP is an excellent example of a discreet traveling companion. And if you are traveling by air, make sure you fully comply with airline and TSA regulations. Like your map, study the rules well in advance of the trip.

You should also print out the airline’s firearms policy from its website to have on-hand as you check your firearm. No matter what the reason though, never travel with your most prized firearm. If it gets taken into evidence, it will be much harder to recover if it’s 1,000 miles away. Bring something that won’t break your heart (or the bank) if it’s tied up for years in a police evidence vault.

You know what happened, but responding officers and EMS personnel don’t, and they certainly don’t know you. A criminal suspect once gave me sage advice when he explained his quick compliance by saying he didn’t “want to be a mistake.” Unfortunately, that goes for the innocent as well.

Out-of-State Law Enforcement

As I indicated earlier, cops’ attitudes toward privately owned firearms vary from locale to locale and, more importantly, from officer to officer. Admittedly, some officers treat armed citizens better than others. The reactions to concealed carriers range from very supportive to downright hostile. So be prepared to encounter a hostile response, especially if you have to lawfully deploy your firearm in defense of self or others. Here are some important points to remember:

In any encounter with law enforcement, be polite and do whatever the officer tells you to do — and quickly. Realize it may take some time to unravel the situation and figure out who is or was the criminal. You know what happened, but responding officers and EMS personnel don’t, and they certainly don’t know you. A criminal suspect once gave me sage advice when he explained his quick compliance by saying he didn’t “want to be a mistake.” Unfortunately, that goes for the innocent as well.

Remember that everything’s off-the-hook dangerous for law enforcement officers these days. Routine calls that shouldn’t be an issue become deadly in a split second. We are on-edge out there much more frequently than in the past; I know because I’ve seen 40 years of it. Even in the small village I patrol, I find myself drawing my sidearm and having it ready at my side much sooner than I would have in the past. I’m not taking any chances.

With Elite Membership, you get 24/7/365 access to the USCCA’s Critical Response Team to help guide you in the event you are involved in a shooting.

If a private citizen doesn’t like my assertive approach, well, I would rather generate a complaint than not go home at the end of the day. So be prepared to have other officers use what some call an “overly aggressive response” in dealing with a person-with-a-gun or shots-fired call.

If the situation in which you find yourself results in an injury or death, say nothing further to the officers than “I was forced to defend myself.” Then seek legal advice. This is where USCCA Membership is worth far more than its cost. With Elite Membership, you get 24/7/365 access to the USCCA’s Critical Response Team to help guide you in the event you are involved in a shooting.

The USCCA Self-Defense SHIELD benefit also provides up to $2.25 million in protection for the use of all legal weapons. If you are arrested, the USCCA should be your first phone call. I am a USCCA Member because I cannot rely on my village government to protect me in case of an off-duty shoot. The peace of mind it brings is substantial.

Help Make Common Sense Common

In a very real way, you could look at travel away from home not so much as presenting entirely different scenarios than you’d encounter in your usual day-to-day but rather as a variation on or amplification of those same themes. As long as you stay alert and don’t do what you know you shouldn’t, problems likely won’t find you while out on the road.

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