Self-Defense: It’s More Than Guns By: Kat Ainsworth


People both inside and outside of the firearms culture tend to think of guns first when self-defense is mentioned. And while guns are, indeed, fantastic equalizers and tools for defensive use, there is a lot more to self-defense than a gun. There must be more in your defensive toolbox than a firearm. Today we are going discuss the various facets of self-defense that might have escaped your notice and offer some tips.

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This YouTube image shows an unarmed man being beaten during a random attack carried out by a stranger. The attack took place in Manhattan.
This YouTube image shows an unarmed man being beaten during a random attack carried out by a stranger. The attack took place in Manhattan. (Photo credit: ABC News Eyewitness 7)

What is Self-Defense?

In broad terms, self-defense is the act of defending yourself against a violent threat. In legal terms, you’ll often hear it referred to as protecting yourself from an immediate, credible threat. According to, self-defense is defined as:

The defense of one’s person or interests, especially through the use of physical force, which is permitted in certain cases as an answer to a charge of violent crime.

You might notice that the definition mentions the use of force but does not reference it as the only factor in self-defense. In reality, there are a lot of different ways to defend yourself. Firearms are great, but they aren’t always an option, and even when they are it’s entirely possible to avoid the fight in the first place. Any fight you walk away from is a fight won, because you lived to see another day. Pride should never be a part of the equation.

aerial view of a riot in the street
Going out in a riot, whether on foot or in a vehicle, is typically a stupid thing to do. (Photo credit: Tallahassee Democrat)

What does “Don’t Be Stupid” really mean?

Instructor John Farnam, who’s been around a long time, often refers to his three rules of stupid: Don’t go stupid places with stupid people and do stupid things. Violating just one of those three rules can have bad results, so just think what might happen if you ignore them totally? It might sound like an oversimplification of staying safe, but it’s not, and we’re going to tell you why.

Although crimes do take place in seemingly “safe” neighborhoods, the majority should be avoidable as long as you stay out of high-risk places. Some locations are more likely to involve danger than others whether it’s simply a store in a part of town that’s known to be bad or something like a dingy alley in a big city. Sure, it might be faster to cut across, but that’s not a smart thing to do.

bar fight
Thinking of going to the bar with someone who tends to get into fights? You might want to rethink that. (Photo credit: Smithsonian Magazine)

The same thing goes for hanging out with people who up your risk quotient. Some people feel spitting in the wind is a great idea without giving a single thought to the consequences. You shouldn’t be one of them. Make the choice to hang out with people who care about personal safety as much as you do.

Doing stupid things is a bit more vague because what’s stupid to one person may not be to another. So, yes, it’s somewhat subjective. We’d say to use common sense, but literally, studies have been published about how common sense is quite uncommon. Instead, let’s say to always hit the pause button long enough to consider the possible outcomes of certain actions. It would be stupid, for example, to go to what might normally be a safe location when you know your ex will be there with their other half who happens to be a felon. That becomes a real problem with custody because you start to realize it’d be wiser to use a responsible adult for exchanges rather than attending on your own. As you can see, “stupid things” is a subjective concept.

gun free zone sign
Is a posted gun-free zone a stupid place to go? The choice is yours. (Photo credit: AZ Central)

Think things through before doing them. It could save you a lot of heartache in the future.

What’s the Most Important Part of Self-Defense?

Spoiler alert: The most valuable part of self-defense isn’t a gun, it’s your brain.

image of human brain
The first tool in your defensive toolbox should be a self-defense mindset. (Photo credit:

Finding and training your self-defense mentality is a crucial part of being prepared to protect yourself from a violent attack. It’s overlooked all too often when in reality, having a gun won’t help you if you’re not capable of using it or not even willing to aim it at another human being. Mentality goes beyond deciding whether you’re willing to use a gun to protect yourself, though.

underground parking garage
A dark, underground parking garage is a high-risk transition area. If you have to be there, stay alert, and be prepared. Pay attention. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

A self-defense mindset includes situational awareness and the wisdom to follow Farnam’s three rules of stupid. It means using your brain to protect yourself. What are some ways to do that?

  • Keep your head up and your brain alert, not nose-deep in your cell phone.
  • Have your keys in your hand as you walk to your car, instead of digging for them when you get to it.
  • Get in the vehicle and immediately lock the door, instead of putzing around with random things first.
  • Park your vehicle under a light and as close to activity as possible rather than in an abandoned corner of the parking lot.
  • Walk the long way around if it means avoiding a potentially dangerous street or alleyway.
  • Be willing to cross the street to avoid walking closely past a possibly high-risk stranger.
  • Make eye contact so people know you see them (but be aware excessive eye contact is seen as a threat in certain cultures).
  • Avoid having two earbuds in when you’re out in public because it obstructs your hearing.
people walking in a park with heads down looking at phones
Pay attention to where you’re going, and quit being so apologetic and polite. Staying safe is more important than good manners. (Photo credit:
  • Stop yourself from being automatically polite and apologetic.
  • Be willing to keep walking, not stop and engage a begging stranger in conversation.
  • Have secondary defensive tools rather than only a gun (pepper spray, Kubotan).
  • Avoid high-risk areas.
  • Ask yourself, “Do I really need to be there/go there/do that?” in a risky place.
  • Be constantly aware of your surroundings.
pistol in leather OWB holster
Yes, guns are stellar equalizers. (Photo credit: KERA News)

Do you really need a gun?

There will be non-permissive environments and situations where you are unable to carry a firearm for one reason or another. That doesn’t mean you’re helpless. Honing a sharp defensive mindset goes a long way toward keeping you safe, and it’s something you should be doing while you’re carrying your gun, too. What you do has a far-reaching impact on what happens, and while it’s true that you can’t control every tiny thing, you can make good choices. Those good choices, in turn, work to keep you from getting into a bad situation.

Black Friday fist fight
Is Black Friday shopping a smart idea? That depends on a lot of factors. Stop and consider the pros and cons before you go. This image is from a Black Friday brawl. (Photo credit: KTNV News)

Of course, there are also unavoidable scenarios. You could be minding your own business at an upper-scale shopping mall when a fight breaks out (hint: leave the area immediately). Or, you could be at that same location when an armed active killer starts shooting. Don’t have your gun on you? You should have a plan in place for what you’ll do beforehand. That doesn’t mean obsessing over self-defense, it means being aware of the chaotic nature of reality and having a general idea of what you’ll do if thus-and-such happens.

Yes, we’re right back to mentality. Self-defense begins in your brain and being mentally trained should remain a big part of your defensive plans.

What do you do to keep yourself sharp and aware of your surroundings? Share your tips with us in the comments.