If you are like most people, here’s how you get into your car and get under way:

Remove the keys from your purse

Unlock the car

Get in, close the door.

Put your purse on the seat beside you.

Put on the seat belt.

Lock the door

Start the car.

Check rearview mirrors, back up.

Drive away.

Why should you do anything differently, and why should you be reading about this in a gun magazine?

You are very vulnerable when entering a vehicle, partly because of the exposure inherent in the scenario above and partly because your focus on your actions may reduce your awareness of danger nearby.

Let’s look at two other ways to deal with getting into cars.  One is an “every day” method that increases your margin of safety when there is no particular reason to believe that you need it; the second is for when you are being stalked, or approached by someone you consider potentially dangerous.

Ordinary situations:

When parking the car, stay near lighted areas at night if possible.  Park where you can get out easily.

When returning to car, have the keys in your hand in a pocket as you approach.  Look around as you near the car, noticing whether anyone is around.  Glance around and under the car; if you do this from rather far away it is unobtrusive, since you don’t have to bend down.

As you unlock the door, look in the back seat area to make sure nobody is hiding back there.

Get in, close the door.

Lock the door.

Put your purse on the floor under your knees.

Put on your seatbelt.

Start the car.

Check rearview mirrors, back up.

This process is not appreciably slower than the one that started this article, but it is much safer.  You have more chances to spot anyone or anything that doesn’t seem right.  Because your keys are already in your hand, you don’t have to stand at the car fumbling through your purse with your back to possible danger.  Don’t carry the keys sticking out from between your fingers — all any bad guy has to do to cause you severe pain instead of him is to grab your hand and squeeze.

Your purse is hidden from view (not tempting to smash and grab artists) but easily accessible.

Now, what about high risk situations, where you know you are being followed, say by an abusive former boyfriend who has been threatening you, and you have plenty of time to prepare your defenses and develop habits to keep yourself alive.

First of all, if there is some safe place to go other than your car, go there!  But if there isn’t, here are some ideas.

High risk situations:

When you get dressed in the morning, think about the fact that you may have to access your gun while sitting in the car.  This is not the day for a small-of-the-back holster, or a belly band under a heavy winter coat.   Most fanny packs work fine in the car, as do cross draws, shoulder holsters, ankle holsters, and holster purses.  With all such holsters, practice drawing with an unloaded gun to be sure the seat belt and steering wheel don’t interfere.  The glove box is not a good gun box; it is slow and awkward to reach, and is illegal in many locales.

When parking the car, pay extreme attention to where it is and what it will be like when you come back to it.  Always park so that you can drive straight out when you leave, and so nobody can easily block you in front.  Park near lighted areas at night.  Park where you can get out easily.

Instead of a regular key, consider getting an electronic car door opener.  You can activate it with your left hand while you are striding up to your car with your right hand on the grip of your gun (in pocket, purse, or other accessible holster), so that you don’t have to hesitate even a moment, just open the door and jump in.

When returning to car, look around as you approach, with your keys or door-opener in your hand (in your pocket, if you don’t want it to be obvious that you are about to get in your car).  Notice whether anyone is around.  Glance under the car as you approach.  As you unlock the door, glance in the back seat area, looking all the way to the floor.

Get in, close the door.

Lock the door as you start the car.

Put it into drive and immediately start to pull away.

When you are underway, put on the seat belt

Then put your purse under your knees.

Why is this different from the second approach?  It enables you to get moving much faster, making it much harder for someone who has timed his approach to your car to coincide with you placidly sitting there putting on your seat belt.

Once you are moving, your car can be your weapon.  You can drive up on curbs, across lawns, on the wrong side of the street if need be.  You can even drive right over anyone who is dumb enough to think he can stop a 1500 lb car with his own 200 lb body and a knife.

The chances that you will have to access your gun while you are sitting in the care are slim, since you spend much more time out of the car than in it, but this is exactly what happened to one of my students recently.  Displaying her firearm had the desired effect on the man who was harassing her — he took off as fast as his car would take him.

Remember, if you have to use a gun while in a car, you are not likely to hit very much if you shoot at a moving target while on the move yourself.  Not only does the motion of the car interfere with sight alighment and trigger control, you will be shooting one-handed because the other hand will be needed to steer the car.  If possible, stop the car and then shoot.


This article originally appeared in Women&Guns magazine January 1997.  Copyright (c) 1997 Lyn Bates