When Is Using Your CCW a Mistake?

By Mike Boyle
Posted in #Survival
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When Is Using Your CCW a Mistake?

June 10th, 2021

6 minute read

Security can be defined as a state of being free from danger or threat. With the liberalization of concealed carry laws, a great many citizens have jumped on the bandwagon and taken a big step toward ensuring their personal safety. Although a concealed handgun does give you greater potential to control your immediate environment, it is merely part of a much bigger picture. Many other factors can come into play.

Like many readers, I have taken responsibility for my own destiny and carry a concealed handgun on a daily basis. As a career law enforcement officer, I was also trained in a number of other force options and was able to achieve instructor certifications in several diverse disciplines. My point is that most armed citizens haven’t had these same opportunities and are at a serious deficit in an unexpected, violent encounter.

Stranger in dark tunnel and man with knife
Common sense can keep you out of most trouble. If it doesn’t, you need a plan. Image: Shutterstock/ChameleonsEye

Many of us are familiar with that old proverb “if your only tool is a hammer, all your problems begin to look like nails.” Clearly, your gun should not be that hammer. Personal security requires a multi-dimensional approach. Understand the fact that once you take up the gun, you will indeed be held to higher standard, even in jurisdictions with stand-your-ground laws on the books.

Demonstrating basic strikes for self defense
Learning and practicing a few basic strikes and blocks can help keep you safe.

Pointing firearms at other people or even flashing your gun to make an impression can land you in hot water. I’m not suggesting that a concealed firearm is merely a security blanket, but before going armed in polite society you need to have a thorough understanding of the law relative to the use of deadly force. In fact, some say the firearm should be your last resort to dealing with violence.

Serious Considerations

Carrying a concealed firearm is indeed a big step and requires a great deal of thought. This is not something to be taken lightly, and you will need to adopt a whole different mindset. The fact that you are armed requires you to be keenly aware of your surroundings at all times.

People in subway station
If you choose to carry a gun, stay switched on. Anticipate possible danger and avoid it.

Being caught unaware not only places you at a disadvantage, but it can jeopardize the safety of others should some miscreant gain control of your gun. Are you willing to use extreme violence to see that you prevail? There are legal, moral and ethical thresholds to be crossed, and before you commit to the gun, you have to come to terms with them.

Unlike the law enforcement officer who has no other option but to confront danger, the armed citizen should take measures to avoid it. Should you get involved in some road rage incident which degenerates into gun play, that will no doubt put you in an unfavorable light. Likewise, getting into a confrontation with a couple of thugs who just insulted your girlfriend will also generate unfavorable results. If you are charged criminally in such an incident, no doubt the prosecuting attorney will point out you could have just left the scene but were emboldened due to the fact you had a gun.

Basic palm strike for personal protection
In close quarters, you may have to fight it out before you are able to access your concealed pistol.

While there are no absolutes, but a great many problems can be avoided by not doing stupid things, going to stupid places or hanging out with stupid people. Flirting with some outlaw biker’s main squeeze down at the strip club might not be an especially good idea.

Again, if you cross that line, you’re pretty much on your own. I recognize that no matter what we do, there may be occasions where we have no other opportunity but to act. I have studied interpersonal conflict for the better part of my adult life, and going to the gun can only be justified in the most unusual situations.

Is It Avoidable?

So, what does all this mean? Despite our best intentions, we may find ourselves to be the intended victim of street crime. It may take the form of being pushed to the ground, punched or having someone close in on your personal space and make verbal threats.

1911 in belt holster
Because you are carrying a concealed handgun, you will be held to a higher standard. Avoid locations you would not visit if unarmed.

If you bring a firearm into this equation, will it help or hurt your cause? While there is no simple answer and an almost infinite number of variables exist, an initial firearms response may not be a good idea.

Regardless, if you are a responsible citizen or a law enforcement officer, we have to become force generalists and find a way to bridge that chasm between words and bullets. In short, we have no idea of what sort of danger awaits us. Typically, cops have some special training and all kinds of less-lethal weapons at their disposal. The armed citizen will often come up short in this critical area.

Pepper spray and a pistol
Oleoresin capsicum (pepper spray) can fill in the gap between talking and shooting.

If you have taken up the gun, I would like to think you have taken the next logical step and gotten some training in its use. I would also urge you to look into taking in some instruction in empty hand skills to complete the picture. One does not have to study the martial arts for years in order to have some understanding of basic blocks and strikes, and these techniques will go a long way in keeping you safe. In extreme close quarters, you may have to fight it out in order to access your firearm should a deadly force response be justified.

Flashlight for self defense
A small flashlight can be used for illumination or as an impact weapon. The really good news is that they can be legally carried anywhere.

To further tip then odds in your favor, consider the use of some sort of intermediate weapon. Pepper spray, a kubaton or a small tactical flashlight that could be used as a yawara are at the top of my list. I know some people feel a small expandable baton is the way to go, but I don’t consider it especially practical for the armed citizen. When I was younger and fitter, I was fairly confident I could hold my own, relying solely on empty hand skills. But at this stage of my life, I will latch onto any advantage. An intermediate force option can fill that role.

Unlike a mixed martial arts contest, the goal isn’t to pummel your tormentor into oblivion or have him submit. A sudden, violent counterattack may very well cause an assailant to change their mental focus and make a hasty exit from the scene. The best possible solution would be to disengage and escape without resorting to the use of deadly force.


Circumstances may arise when there is no other option but to go to the gun. If you can articulate an immediate and unavoidable danger of death or serious bodily injury, the use of deadly force can be justified. But bear in my mind that your concealed firearm is the final ring of safety. Having some other, lower force options at your disposal can only help your cause.

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Mike Boyle

Mike Boyle

Mike Boyle has been a firearms and use of force instructor for 39 years. Although retired from active law enforcement service, he is active as a law enforcement training specialist for both his agency and the police academy. He has been a featured presenter for ILEETA and IALEFI and has written numerous articles for firearms and law enforcement periodicals. Mike is also the author of the book, Combative Shotgun, by Looseleaf Law Publications.

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