Surviving in Weapon-Free Zones

One of the challenges I face in my day-to-day life is an activity which takes me, once a week or so, into a location where weapons are prohibited. Not just firearms and blades, mind you, but pepper spray, mace, batons, and a long list of other things. And, although there are armed security officers at some of the entrances to the complex, the parking lots and a lot of the interior space are either unprotected or, at best, well outside the “help could reach you in 30 seconds or less” distance.

Needless to say, this is a place where my situational awareness radar is on heightened alert.

Because I can’t be armed when I’m in this location, and because the nature of the activities that go on there entail a certain amount of elevated risk anyway (yea, I’m being vague on purpose) I’ve given some though to how to safeguard my safety. Here are a few things I’ve come up with:

  • Increase personal space. I have a pretty good sense generally of how close I’m willing to let a potential threat get to me, and I tend to enlarge that “bubble” when I’m unarmed and in a threat-rich environment,
  • Heighten situational awareness. Not quite Condition Orange (because no specific threat has been identified), but sort of a “Condition Yellow Plus”. People entering my environment get a little extra attention. The threshold at which I respond to pre-offense interviewing is lower, and so forth.
  • Identify potential improvised weapons. Just because I can’t carry a weapon doesn’t mean there aren’t things I could use in a pinch. My keys (about a dozen, on a large aluminum carabiner) could be pressed into service to respond to a threat. So could a pen. And then there’s my flashlight, which (so far) hasn’t been challenged but which could do defensive duty in a pinch.
  • Keep a means of communication close at hand. My cell phone is ALWAYS nearby, and I have the phone numbers that would summon help on speed-dial. It could still take several minutes for help to arrive, so this would be an imperfect tool on its own, but every little bit helps.

That last point highlights something else I’d like to underline: Self-defense and personal safety are about systems of protection. Cell phone, situational awareness, martial arts skills, flashlight, weapons — none is a magic bullet that will protect you all by itself. Rather, each is a component in your personal safety planning, jigsaw puzzle pieces that fit together to help you stay safe.

So, how about it, gentle readers: What strategies do you use to stay safe in places where weapons are off-limits? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


  1. You might think about a whistle for you and some of the places you work.

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