Tactical Tip: The Weapons Check

Alex Haddox from Palladium Education produces a terrific podcast called Practical Defense (link, iTunes) that’s chock full of information and quick tips. Most of these podcasts are just 5 or 10 minutes long, and I always learn something from them.

The most recent episode (MP3) of the podcast dealt with a common “pre-assault indicator” which Alex calls the “weapons check”. What are pre-assault indicators, and what is this telltale sign of trouble?

It turns out that research tells us predators go through an assessment of their potential victims prior to actually launching their attack. During this phase, sometimes called “the interview”, the criminal will commonly do things to test whether you’d be a suitable victim. He may invade your personal space and see if you tolerate the intrusion. He will almost certainly study you, watching for how distracted you are, whether you seem alert to your surroundings, and so forth. Experts know that if you can spot these advances before the actual attack happens, you stand a much better chance of forestalling the assault entirely, or effectively responding to it when it does.

Have you ever noticed that people who are armed tend to reflexively touch the area where they’re carrying their weapon – usually a pocket or the belt area – when they’re going into a situation where they anticipate trouble? This is the “weapons check” Alex talks about, and it serves two purposes for the criminal. First, it’s an unconscious sign of aggression: the bad guy is telegraphing, to anyone that’s paying attention, that the bad guy is armed. Second, it’s another way for him to probe your defenses, to see if you’re alert to your surroundings. It’s a way to test your situational awareness, and this is important because most bad guys don’t want their would-be victim to see the attack coming.

As part of your situational awareness, watch for people who are reflexively doing a “weapons check”. You may or may not want them to know you’ve spotted this telltale sign of a would-be predator, but it will certainly telegraph to you that the person doing it is someone who deserves your attention. It will tell you that it’s time to go to Condition Orange, to start thinking about what you’ll do if the threat becomes an active one.

One more thing: When you’re carrying a weapon – be it a gun, knife, TASER, pepper spray, or whatever – try to resist the temptation to perform your own weapons check when you sense danger. If your opponent, or others around you, knows the significance of the gesture, you’ve just confirmed to anyone paying attention you’re armed. This is unlikely to be a good thing.

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