Dealing With Someone Who's Threatening You With a Weapon

Stay calm, follow instructions, and note the assailant's appearance

Man pointing gun

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If you come face-to-face with someone threatening you with a gun, a knife, or any other weapon, there are steps that you can take to make the situation less dangerous. Some are general, such as remaining calm, while others are more specific, including making eye contact with the assailant.

Stay Calm

The most important thing to do is probably one of the most difficult: remain calm. Remember that you will need all your wits to increase your chances of gaining control of the situation. If you are hysterical, it is unlikely that you will be able to maintain mental clarity.

It's likely that the person holding the weapon won't be calm, and if you exhibit high anxiety, there's a good chance it will increase the assailant's anxiety. Screaming can be particularly dangerous in this situation because it can make the assailant panicky or angry. Remaining calm can have the opposite effect.

Make Eye Contact

Many criminals who pull weapons on people can mentally dehumanize their victims. Making eye contact helps them view you more as a human being than a disposable object.

Assess Assailant's Goal

Certain scenarios can result in having a weapon pulled on you. If the purpose is to kill you, then you would likely already be dead. Mass killers enter schools, places of employment, malls, etc., and start shooting, either randomly or with predetermined goals such as selecting a specific group of people.

Most criminals who point a gun don't want to shoot it. Their goal might be to rob you, steal a car for a joyride, hold you hostage to get out of a crime gone bad, or kidnap you for ransom. Usually in these situations the weapon is being used to control you, not to kill you.

Follow Instructions Calmly

Follow the instructions of the person with the weapon but be sure to communicate what you're about to do. For example, if they ask for your wallet, before reaching into your purse or pocket tell them what you are about to do. Then do it slowly and calmly.

Don't make it appear that you have another intention than to do what you told them you were going to do.

Don't Challenge

If you have always wanted to be a hero, now is not the time. Not only could it cost you your life, but it also could harm others. Being physically or verbally aggressive to the person with the weapon probably will ignite the situation.

Trying to grab the weapon will likely get you killed or seriously injured. Resisting their instructions will not only anger them, but it also will force them to show who is in charge. What you want to communicate is that you plan to cooperate.

Talk Carefully

If you have an opportunity to engage the assailant in light conversation, try to direct the chat so they talk about themselves and subtly feed their egos by making them feel that what they say is intelligent and has merit. Not only are you trying to connect with their human side, but you also want them to believe that you don't feel superior to them.

If you get into a conversation, keep your voice low and your sentences short. Ask questions and avoid talking too much about yourself. They want you as their audience, not the other way around. If there is an opportunity to inject something short and personal, do it. For example, if they name the high school they attended, ask them if they knew your friend who went to the same school, even if that friend doesn't exist.

If a controversial subject arises, such as politics or religion, this is not the time to get into a debate. Appear interested in their opinions. If asked, tell them that you see they know a lot about it and you appreciate their point of view.

Note Assailant's Appearance

Notice what the person holding the weapon looks like, but don't stare. Rather than try to figure out their weight or height, pay attention to distinguishable things, such as tattoos, gang symbols, birthmarks, moles, and scars.

Evaluate Hostage Situations

Hostage situations have different dynamics from armed robberies. If, for example, you work at a bank where a robbery attempt has gone bad and you are being held hostage, do as you are told and remain quiet. Your goal should be to be invisible to the person holding the gun.

If you see a chance to escape, do it, but only if the probability of success is high. If the assailant is negotiating with the authorities and you are chosen as a hostage to be released, go. It might be hard to abandon your co-workers or friends, but staying behind won't improve their situation. It will only anger and frustrate the person telling you to go.

Remember that in hostage situations the police are probably making plans for your rescue, and your best chance of survival is not to be the main focus of the assailant. Try to position yourself as far from the assailant as possible.

If the criminal is talking with a hostage negotiator and talks breaks down, the next step might be for sharpshooters to take aim. Avoid being grabbed as a human shield or inadvertently shot by a flying bullet. Keeping distant from the guy holding the gun is the best way to go.

When Not to Cooperate

There is no certainty that any of these suggestions will keep you alive. Relying on your common sense and instincts will ultimately be your best chance of survival. However, doing everything a criminal tells you might not be the best approach, though there is no instruction book to follow.

Carjackings can be particularly perilous if the carjacker insists that you remain in the vehicle or instructs you to drive. Any diversion that you can create to avoid this situation could increase your chances of survival.

Carjacking victims have pretended to faint outside the car. Others who have been forced to drive have driven into poles or parked cars in well-populated areas, But every situation is different, and you must rely on yourself to assess the situation and find the best way out.

After the Ordeal

If the ordeal ends before the police arrive, call 9-1-1 as soon as possible. Notifying law enforcement quickly will increase the chance of apprehending the suspect and preventing future victims. When they ask questions, provide as many details as you can and be available for follow-up interviews.