Perhaps your state has just passed a law allowing properly licensed private citizens to carry guns.  Perhaps you’ve decided to see what it is like to go armed in public. Perhaps you are being threatened and are taking steps to protect yourself that you once would have thought extreme, but now seem perfectly reasonable. Perhaps you just want to feel less vulnerable at home and away from home.

Whatever the reason, you are thinking more about ensuring your personal safety.

The first thing to remember is that if you have a gun, it should not be your only method of defense.  A gun is a wonderful tool, perhaps the only thing that will reliably get you out of certain situations, but those situations are rare.  It is much more likely that you will encounter danger that fit the definition putting you in fear  of imminent death or grave bodily harm, which is what’s required to justify the use of your firearm.

Maybe you’ve never carried your gun in public, and are extremely reluctant to do so.  Analyzing that reluctance, you find that it is one part fear of the gun being seen, and two parts fear that you might deploy it unnecessarily and get yourself in a barrel of trouble.  Wouldn’t you feel better, if, in addition to a really good deep concealment holster, you also had some other tools that you could choose to use instead of the gun?  In other words, wouldn’t it be nicer to consider your gun your backup tool, instead of your primary tool?

How can you prepare yourself to deal with _all_ the situations that you are likely to encounter?

Congratulations, you are starting to think like a police officer.  Police deal with a wide spectrum of situations, and have a variety of tools to help them.  The gun is, as it should be, their last resort, not their first.

Let’s take a look at how cops are equipped, and why, and what we as civilians can learn from them.

Guns.  Cops have ‘em, and many private citizens do, too.  Cops generally have to carry whatever their department has approved, which takes much of their choice away.  You have a big advantage over a cop when it comes to firearms.  You can try many guns and find out what fits your hand, what you can shoot easily and accurately, and you can balance the requirements of your body size and lifestyle against such factors as the weight and round capacity of the gun you choose.

If you are going for concealed carry, be sure that the gun you buy is designed for that purpose.  If it is a revolver, it should have a double action trigger of around 8-12 pounds and should not have sharp edges or protrusions that will snag on clothing; ideally, it should not be possible to fire the gun single action. If it is a semi-auto, the same anti-snag principles apply, and, unless you are certifiable in court as an expert shooter, the gun should be double action only or at least double action for the first shot.

Holsters.  Police officers on the street carry their guns right on their hips where everyone can see them.  This makes a visible (and usually effective) part of the “police presence”, while it enables a fast draw, but it also invites criminals to try to snatch the gun out of an unwary officer’s holster.  Hence the invention of retention holsters that have become very popular for police in the last few years.

Retention holsters for civilians are just starting to be made, but since you and I can carry the gun in deep concealment so nobody knows it is there, the chance of someone trying to snatch a holstered gun from us is extremely small.  So get yourself a holster or gun purse that keeps the gun securely hidden (yet is easy to draw from), and you will actually be better equipped, in terms of snatch potential, than your local cop on the beat.

Uniform and badge.  Along with the gun, these are the hallmarks of a police officer.  Nothing like it for civilians, but we are actually safer blending in with the surrounding folk instead of standing out like a cop does.

Pepper spray.  Many officers are issued Oleoresin Capsicum spray (OC spray) to carry.  It is safer (for both the sprayer and the sprayee) than Mace, and is very effective in many less-than-lethal situations.  In most places, private citizens can legally obtain and carry these same sprays, though often sold under different brand names.  Check your local laws, and if it is legal, get a few canisters to carry in your purse, or in your car, or to put near your bed or your front door – wherever you would like to have something at hand to discourage and disengage from a drunk, a prowler, or anyone else who won’t listen to “No,” but who doesn’t deserve to be shot.

Baton.  Cops have expandable batons, PR-24 batons (those funny long sticks with one part sticking out on the side like a handle), and other impact weapons.  They may be illegal for you and me.  (I’ve heard that in one state, it is a felony for a civilian to possess a police baton, but only a misdemeanor to possess a gun.)  Various martial arts devices purport to do the same job, but they are often illegal, too.

Flashlights.  This is the first “weapon” we’ve discussed that is multi-purpose, and is often useful in non-defense situations.  A truly well equipped police officer will have two, a small lithium battery light on his or her belt that is always with them and that is useful for illuminating things that are close, and larger unit recharging in the curiser until it is needed for something like searching dark buildings at night.

You can do virtually the same.  I have a Streamlight Stinger flashlight in my car.  I used to carry a larger Maglight multi-C-cell under the driver’s seat — very handy for roadside emergencies like flat tires or rape attempts.  In various places around the house and often in my purse I have a small flashlight like a Laser Products 3P.  Because flashlights are common, everyday objects, you don’t have to conceal them.  You can have one at your work (“I need it to see into the back of the supply closet.”), in your car (“The dome light just isn’t bright enough for me to read a map.”) or in your home (“Kids, this flashlight is here in case the power goes out.”), which makes them near at hand in case you ever need an improvised impact weapon.

Radio.  Police radios are lifelines.  A police officer who is on patrol “alone” is actually not alone at all, since he or she has the ability to summon a large number of brothers and sisters in blue when a situation seems to be getting extremely dangerous.  Knowing that s/he can call for backup, or report a location, or report what s/he is observing gives every officer the confidence they need to do their jobs.

You and I can have a similar lifeline of communication – a cellular phone.  They are so small and light now that you can carry it everywhere, special low-cost calling plans are available, and cell phones are now required to connect 911 calls.

It is no exaggeration to say that many of the situations that women fear can be alleviated by the presence of a cellphone.  Just think about it:  Getting stuck on the road at night when your car breaks down.  Getting lost in an unsavory neighborhood when you take a wrong turn.  Someone cuts your home telephone lines before breaking into your home.  You are on a date with someone who becomes very unpleasant, and you manage to run away, but find yourself alone, on foot, in a strange place.  You miss the last bus home, and all the buildings around you are locked.

When people ask me, “What can I do for my daughter, who doesn’t take self-protection seriously?”, I say, “Give her a cellphone.”

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Soft body armor.  Popularly (and wrongly) called bullet proof vests, they are actually bullet resistant.   They are by no means universal among police, but they are popular, and they do save lives.  Many companies that make them try to restrict them to “law enforcement only” so that they do not get into the hands of criminals, but at least one such company president has told me that he would make an exception to that police and provide a vest for a woman who was in mortal danger, after verifying the seriousness of the situation (stalking, domestic violence, etc.).

Persuader.  These handy plastic sticks with keyrings on one end make great keychains, but they also are excellent close-in weapons that can concentrate force on various body parts to “encourage” someone to back off, or to let go.  Some police are trained to use them in conjunction with handcuffing techniques.  You can get one, too, mailorder or in person from a variety of police supply stores.  As far as I have been able to determine, they are legal in all states, making them a good choice for people who travel a lot.

Knives.  Here’s another double-duty tool.  Nothing is handier than a knife for lots of little jobs.  Police who have been faced with the problem of extracting accident victims usually carry folding knives with blades strong enough to cut through automobile seat belts.  If you choose a knife as part of your self-defense gear, be sure you get one that is legal in your area.  Ideally, the knife should be a folding one, so that you don’t have to carry or wear a scabbard to protect the blade.  It should be openable WITH ONE HAND, though this usually takes some practice.  Modern defense knives generally have a clip so that you can wear them in your front pants pocket, but other good options are hooked to the mid-line of your bra, clipped to the waistline of a skirt or pants, or (though this usually is less accessible) clipped to an inside pocket of your purse, so it can always be reached without digging.

Training.  Police get a few months of academy schooling, plus occasional in-service training, and of course, on-the-job ad-hoc training.  It is actually easy, though not always inexpensive, for civilians to get the same kind of high quality training that is given to police.  Regardless of which defensive tools you choose, firearm, OC spray, knife, or Persuader, you will not be effective with it, nor confident in carrying it, unless you have some training.  We aren’t talking about months and years of training like a martial artist needs — in most cases a few hours to a few days is all that it takes to become proficient enough generate true confidence in your ability to protect yourself.  Several resources for varied kinds of training are given in the resource list below; these groups may be able to refer you to trainers in your local area.

You don’t have to become a cop in order to protect yourself, but the more you learn from what cops know, the more you can adapt street-proven techniques and tools to your own needs and lifestyle.  I guarantee that, if you carry concealed, you will feel safer and BE safer if you also have alternative, less-lethal options available to you.  Stay safe…

This article first appeared in the May-Jun 1999 issue of Women&Guns magazine.  Copyright (c) 1999 Lyn Bates