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Editor's Note: This article was written exclusively for OFFGRIDweb.com by Jeff Dingle, a career security professional and former Special Agent with the National Security Agency (NSA). Jeff's substantial expertise in the security field may help you reconsider possible flaws in your preparedness philosophy.
The clothes make the man — this old saying serves as a reminder that your outward appearance can give away who you really are. As a survival-minded individual, ignoring this principle can mean unintentionally broadcasting your preparedness to the world, and thus becoming vulnerable to attacks by sharp-eyed criminals.
I recently traveled to a large International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) meeting, and I was surprised how easy it was to spot the IACP attendees on the plane. Without trying, I found myself taking mental notes of each law enforcement officer. It was a combination of cargo pants, 5.11 Tactical shirts, athletic shoes and close-cropped haircuts. Cops tend to look like cops, even in civilian guise. This is important because your outward appearance can influence bystanders’ opinion of you. While you may not care what people think of you, your appearance may have an impact on whether you appear to be a potential victim, a person to leave alone, or a threat to be dealt with immediately.
Your appearance, including your clothing and your property, tells a stranger quite a bit about you. The question is, what do YOU want others to know? This gets tricky — the more prepared you appear, the less likely you are to be seen as a potential victim. In other words, the stronger you look, the less likely you are to be bothered. But it may not be wise to let others know you’re armed, or see the full extent of your preparedness. While preparedness can be a deterrent, it could also make you a target to eliminate ASAP before moving on to those more vulnerable. Either way, these unspoken statements are undeniably important to your survival philosophy.
Here are ten potential preparedness “dead giveaways” to consider:
Firearms manufacturers like Glock put a great deal of effort into promoting their products. Shirts, jackets, hats and gloves with the Glock logo are readily available on websites and at gun stores and gun shows. It’s not just logos, either — easily-identifiable images and graphic prints can have the same effect.
Don’t get us wrong, we strongly support gun rights, and enjoy shooting Glocks. But do you really want strangers to know you’re likely armed, you have a Glock, and you’re enough of a fan of your Glock to buy merchandise? This says a lot about you. And if you’re not armed, does wearing Glock apparel — or that of SIG, S&W, or any other weapon brand — suggest that you are armed? It’s something to think about.
Aside from the branding on your clothes, also consider the fit and style. If you carry a weapon, do you wear different clothes when you are armed or unarmed?
I have a friend who seriously works out (you know the type). When he is not carrying a weapon, he wears tight shirts, tucked in. This doesn’t work when he carries, so he wears popular fishing-type shirts that are loose-fitting and designed to be worn untucked. While this is a functional shirt to wear while carrying a weapon, it is a distinctly different look for him, and if you know his routine, it provides a clear tell that he is armed.
The same can be said for vehicles. Does your truck or SUV have a big push bar, a locking toolbox, mud tires, a winch, or additional LED lights? These upgrades may make your rig more capable as a bug-out platform, but they also make it stand out in traffic, and hint that it might not be just another grocery-getter.
The previous point about logos also applies here. Does your car have a Remington sticker on the window, a Second Amendment bumper sticker, a USMC sticker, or an NRA sticker? Again, we’re not saying you shouldn’t be proud of who you are, but consider what a Colt Firearms sticker on your back window says about you. Does it say I’m armed, stay away from me? Or does it say break into this truck, it probably has a quality weapon in it to steal? Consider that a bad guy might find it easier to snatch a weapon from your vehicle than to try to get a gun through legal means.
Apparel doesn’t stop at shirts and pants. You might wear a firearm pin on your jacket or hat, or carry your keys on lanyard that bears the name of your martial arts training facility.
I was recently in line to get a seat assignment at a large and busy airport. I had been traveling for several days, and I was tired and bored. There was a pilot in line in front of me. His uniform told me that he worked for a cargo airline, and was obviously deadheading (i.e. catching a free flight) to another airport. I noticed he was a wearing a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) lanyard to display his credentials. As a former FLETC instructor, I asked him when he had been at FLETC. He responded angrily, “Who said I went to FLETC?”
It quickly became obvious that he had attended FLETC’s Federal Flight Deck Officer Program, a program used to train and arm pilots. He didn’t want others to know he was armed – but he clearly displayed that fact to anyone who looked and understood what he was wearing.
Facebook, or any other social media site, is something you need to seriously consider. Many people put way too much information about themselves on social media. Discussing or showing photos of weapons that you own can make you a target for burglars. If you post photos, carefully consider what you show, and what's in the background in your pictures.
Your status updates may unknowingly give away your home's exterior appearance, its interior layout, security features, gun safe placement, the type of weapons you own, and the presence of other valuables like your new big-screen TV. Then all it takes is one innocuous post with photos from a vacation destination, and criminals have all the information they need for a smash-and-grab.
If you carry a weapon — any weapon — there are additional points you need to consider.
Most gun holsters and knife sheaths have a clip. The clip often shows, even with an inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster. While you think that it might not be much, when someone knows what it is, it tells a lot about you! The folding knife in your side or back pocket exposes a very identifiable clip as well.
Take care to never expose your weapon when you’re carrying concealed. You should already be aware of the serious ramifications of brandishing a weapon in public, especially if you may not be legally justified in doing so.
Also be aware of printing, i.e. showing an outline of your weapon through your clothing. In many states, the legal difference between concealed and open carry is that open carry must be done so that the firearm is completely and totally in plain sight at all times. Concealment often dictates that it be entirely covered or always hidden. If you’re carrying a concealed weapon, there is a reason it’s concealed. Keep it that way.
While touching your weapon is usually a subconscious behavior, armed people have a tendency to frequently adjust or feel around for the weapon. It’s a natural tendency to make sure your weapon is where it’s supposed to be, but it’s also a tell. You have to make a concerted effort to NOT touch your weapon. It can be difficult to overcome this subconscious habit, but it is extremely important for proper concealment.
If you go to so-called gun-free zones or places which clearly prohibit weapons (these vary by local ordinances, so know your local laws) it is obvious to others that you are not likely to be armed. “Be careful about ignoring these laws,” says consultant, attorney, and former FBI Agent Bobby Ricks, “Getting caught armed in a place that prohibits firearms can not only lead to criminal prosecution, but civil penalties as well. Getting caught can also lead to the permanent loss of your carry permit,” advises Ricks. Carefully choose where you go, and if you feel you need to be armed, you may be forced to consider avoiding these non-permissive environments.
One final issue we want to address: should you have a security system on your house? We can’t answer that question for you. However, the related issue is the security alarm company sign.
Telling potential intruders that your home has a security system can be a significant deterrent. But any sign that identifies the specific alarm company can work against you. If a criminal knows the adversary (in this case, the alarm company) that’s the first step in beating the system. Therefore, you may want to consider getting a sign whether you have an alarm system or not. Even if you don’t have an alarm system, the sign is a deterrent. However, if you have a system, do not use a sign from the company that provides the service. Get a different sign. Swap with someone who uses a different company, or purchase a competitor’s sign on Craigslist or eBay. This strategic misdirection may prove valuable.
Visible security cameras or motion sensors are another variable to consider. Their presence may serve as a tell about your preparedness, but might also be an effective deterrent.
We’re not trying to definitively tell you the exact steps to take, but we want to remind you to carefully consider how you present yourself in public. Any indications that you are prepared can make a potential attacker more aware of you than if they had no information about you.
Personally, I’d rather have a potential adversary underestimate me than be prepared for me.
People use these basic skills to make judgments about you. You can use these to assess others too. Consider these ten issues, and think about what you want to make public, how you control what others know about you, and what you can do to be better prepared. In all of these cases, it’s not hard to know what to do – but it can be hard to do what you know.
No matter what hand you’re dealt in life, you get to choose which cards to show and which cards to keep concealed. Choose wisely.
Jeff Dingle is a career security professional, working in the public and private sector to protect and to help others protect themselves and their property. He is a former Special Agent with the National Security Agency, and has held senior security positions with a FORTUNE 15 company, a former US President, and a casino/resort/hotel. A former Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Staff Instructor, he is also a competitive shooter. Jeff can be reached at [email protected].
Bobby Ricks is an expert in investigation, case preparation, and witness testimony. He specializes in developing and conducting training and education programs for law enforcement, physical security and emergency personnel. Bobby can be reached at [email protected].