The best way to win a gunfight is don’t have one.

Situational Awareness is the best way to not have a gun fight. Situational awareness means you expect your environment to be normal and safe but you don’t assume it will be. You casually and continuously scan your surroundings without fear expecting everything to be normal and safe. If you see, smell, hear or feel anything that is not normal, you pay attention to it to determine if the situation is or is not safe.

A practical example of this would be when you walk into your grocery store. You expect people to be calmly selecting their groceries and paying for them. However, you hear loud voices as though there is an argument. But you don’t assume it is an argument. As you listen to the voices you notice one voice is from a male and another from a female. You wonder, is this an argument between a husband and wife? Is this a conflict between two irritated customers? Is this a confrontation between an upset customer and a store manager becoming impatient with a customer?

No need to get nervous. You are evaluating what you are listening to. The voices quiet down and you move on. Total evaluation time, less than 10 seconds.

On the other hand, let’s take the same scenario but this time you hear the man say “You do that one more time and I’m going to kill you.” You become alert to danger. You wonder what you should do next. You have gone from casual and consistent observation in the grocery store to a level of alertness. Total evaluation time, less than 10 seconds.

Let’s take an example where you are pumping gas at a local convenience store. This time you are not using situational awareness. Instead you are looking at the nozzle pumping gasoline while you are thinking about the plumbing problem you have at home. Someone walks up to you, points a knife at your ribs and says “Give me all your money. Don’t look around, just give me your money”. If you are like most people, you won’t evaluate anything. You will react based on your reasonable fear.

Let’s take the same basic scenario but this time you will be using situational awareness. When you drive up to the gas pumps you do a quick scan of the area around the other pumps and you include a quick scan of the front of the convenience store. You notice a guy standing outside the convenience store moving around like he has had way too much sugar. He’s wearing a waist length jacket and raggedy blue jeans. As you get out of your car you glance at him again and you notice that he is looking at you. He quickly looks away.

You scan the entire area again (takes maybe 5 seconds) and determine everything looks fine. You glance again at the man standing by the store and notice he is looking at you again. He begins to walk away from the store but not directly at you. You continue to casually observe his movements. For some unknown reason, he seems to have lost interest in you and he leaves the property.

What happened? Whether he was planning on accosting you or not (carjackings and mugging of people do occur at gas pumps) he realized you were paying attention to him so he knew you would be able to identify him if he attacked you. Worse yet, he knew you would be ready to resist him.

Generally speaking, criminals who attack people want the attack to go smoothly. They don’t want to be identified, they don’t want to be noticed. They just want to commit the crime and to get away.

You entered the business area expecting everything to be normal and safe. You saw something that didn’t look quite right but deserved additional attention. There’s no way to know for sure what, if anything, this guy was going to do. What we do know is that in about a minute what might have been a serious problem disappeared.

Guns could have been involved. If you had failed to notice him, he might have quietly approached you, pulled out a firearm and demanded your money. You might have thought you could give him a quick push, draw your own gun, and shoot him. It is very unlikely your defensive plan would work. Yes, he might have stumbled back but, out of pure ego, fired a shot right at you. And it is likely that you would have lost a gunfight. The best way to win a gunfight is to not have one.

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