4 tactics that can save your life in a plainclothes gunfight

Going armed while in soft clothes requires a different mindset than when you are in uniform

In the recent ambush killing of two Las Vegas uniformed officers, the second phase of the incident resulted in the death of a citizen carrying a concealed weapon (CCW). When the male shooter entered a Wal-Mart and fired a round, the CCW citizen attempted to engage the killer, assuming the role of citizen Sheepdog. 

Unfortunately, our would-be hero didn’t spot the female killer who was a few steps behind her husband. The female killed our CCW hero before he could get into the fight. While we’ll never know if the outcome of this engagement could have been different if the armed citizen was an off-duty or retired officer, the topic of engaging in a gunfight while off-duty is a vital one. I suggest to you that following these tactics will prepare you to win the fight.

First, you must develop your own personal rules of engagement. You must do this now — not when the incident is underway. With an intimate knowledge of your statutes covering the use of deadly force, decide when you will simply be a witness and when you will engage a threat. If you are carrying under the Law Enforcement Officer’s Safety Act (LEOSA — HR218), remember that you have no law enforcement authority. Once you’ve done this, you can begin to think about the four keys to winning in a plainclothes engagement. 

1. Alertness
First, your situational awareness must be at least as good as when you were in uniform, be alert. Live in Jeff Cooper’s condition Yellow and be ready to shift to Orange then Red at a moment’s notice.

In CCW mode, your pistol is probably a smaller, less-tractable model and possibly even a smaller, less-effective caliber. Your concealed carry mode of carry will probably be less accessible, slowing your presentation. So, you must be very alert, hopefully identifying the threat soon enough to allow you to formulate a hasty plan of attack. Delay your confrontation as long as possible to determine if you might be facing more than one foe, acting as a rear guard. 

Be alert for other potential sheepdogs — cops or CCW civilians. 

Alertness will buy you time.

2. Stealth
The second concealed carry gunfight element is stealth. Directly confronting an armed felon is a poor choice when you are in soft clothes without backup. If the situation allows, move behind cover or concealment and flank your opponent. 

Getting on his “six,” directly behind him is the best, but even a side approach will give you the advantage of surprise. A diversion may help you reach a tactically superior position before starting the fight. 

Throw something to draw his attention in another direction. If you face multiple adversaries, gaining a tactical advantage is crucial — the odds are not in your favor. 

Use stealth to reach an advantageous position before beginning your attack.

Yes, I said attack. 

3. Aggression
The third element in your plan is aggression. If you’re confronting a masked assailant sticking up a Walgreens for drugs, this is not the time to draw down and order the felon to surrender. 

Remember your preset rules of engagement.

If deadly force is justified, don’t threaten it, use it! 

If you issue verbal commands you must wait to see if he obeys. If you feel you must issue verbal orders, learn to shout something simple while you shoot. If you decide to engage, launch an overwhelming attack. Handguns are not reliable man stoppers, even the biggest calibers. Land multiple body shots, shooting only as fast as you can reliably make center hits. 

If you can sneak in close enough to start the fight with a head shot, your odds of a rapid stop will climb dramatically. 

Stalk your prey and launch a devastating strike, violent aggression will win the day.

4. Identification
Finally — if you haven’t already done so — you must now identify yourself as a good guy. 

Research by the Kansas City PD tells us a center-mass positioning of ID is the most likely to be spotted by arriving officers. 

A badge may work, but consider a big, bold ID like the DSM Safety Banner

This brilliant four-inch-wide banner is visible front and rear and will identify you as “police,” “security,” “LEOSA” for retired LEOs, or even “CCW” for civilians. 

After the suspect(s) is down, deploy your ID, scan 360 degrees, reload your weapon and do some tactical breathing. Holster your weapon if safe to do so and avoid any threatening behavior until arriving officers understand you are a “friendly.” 

Highly-visible identification completes our list of gunfight winning tactics.


1. Alertness
2. Stealth
3. Aggression
4. Identification

For me, I also add my motto: Not Here! Not Today!

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