One of the most critical decisions those of us who carry firearms will ever make is when to draw our guns to defend ourselves. That being the case, it’s a good idea to consider some basic strategies before we find ourselves in a high-stress, chaotic scenario.

Every situation is different. For example, it’s pretty easy to see why any individual might immediately go for his or her gun upon hearing angry voices, cursing and violent pounding on the front door.

But say you notice several young men merely standing near your car in a mall parking lot. In that case, pulling your gun simply because you think they are “scary-looking” is unlikely to meet the “reasonableness” standard. And remember that a jury will decide what is reasonable, not you.

Self-Defense Preparation Improves Your Odds

It’s a good idea to regularly run through typical situations in your mind and consider the best way to deal with them. While you’re walking through a parking lot, ask yourself, “What would I do if someone approached me in a threatening way right this minute?” You will find yourself looking around for things like escape routes and potential cover.

Note that this kind of mental preparation is precisely what Navy SEALs and other professionals such as SWAT teams do all the time. They prepare for as many potential scenarios as they can imagine, then practice their response. As a result, they can react quickly and decisively. OK, most of us aren’t “Tier 1” operators, but we can certainly benefit from mental preparation.

What Would a Jury Say About You Drawing Your Firearm?

Let’s look at the example of the “scary-looking” young men in the parking lot mentioned above. If instead of just standing there, they were to say or do something that any normal person would view as a serious threat, then the situation has escalated and pulling your gun may be seen as justified.

But even then, the details will matter. Juries will ask how close the young men were as well as what, exactly, they said to you. What other option did you have? Was there an easy way to move to safety?

Juries are notoriously reluctant to accept the use of deadly force in the first place. And even if your state has some version of “stand your ground” legislation on the books, if you could have easily gotten out of the situation instead of using deadly force, they will be less inclined to rule in your favor.

‘Brandishing’ or Justifiable Reaction With Your Gun to a Threat?

I remember the case of Robert Lawrence, an Air Force veteran who was hassled by three people in another vehicle. They screamed at him and threw a can of soda at his car at a stoplight. Instead of immediately calling 911, Lawrence drew his pistol and held it up so they could see it.

Wrong move.

The people who were harassing him did call 911, and Lawrence wound up being charged with aggravated assault. Luckily, his lawyer finally discovered another 911 tape. This led to a citizen who testified that he witnessed Lawrence being hassled and attacked. As a result, Lawrence was vindicated, but not before he had been put through hell (and a lot of legal expenses) for months.

Again, every situation is different. And unfortunately, you’ll likely have only seconds to decide how to respond. But being prepared can help you make the right move.


About John Caile

John Caile, a contributing writer for USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine, has more than 35 years of experience in concealed carry training and practical handgun shooting skills. As Communications Director for the Minnesota Gun Owners Political Action Committee, John was instrumental in passing Minnesota’s landmark concealed carry permit law. Certified through the NRA as an instructor of Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun, Home Firearm Safety and Personal Protection in the Home, John continues his lifelong activism for gun owners and their rights in Palm Coast, Florida. He has appeared on national talk radio and network and public television and is frequently published in the press.