HANDLE THE THREAT
LEARN TO DEFEND YOUR LOVED ONES WITH THESE SIX VIP PROTECTION TIPS
Learn to defend your loved ones with these six VIP protection tips.
By Leroy Thompson
I’ve worked protective details in various parts of the world and trained close protection teams, hostage rescue units and counterinsurgency units in assorted venues—but the most important principals I will ever protect are my family and myself.
The techniques I applied in the “areas of conflict” are the same ones I would use to defend my loved ones. Following are six ways to be your own bodyguard.
01 PRACTICE COMMON SENSE
Many of the precepts I practice are common sense, but from time to time we all have to be reminded to apply it. The most basic principle is to avoid problems rather than confront them if possible. To give a current example, in St. Louis where I live, violent demonstrations have become rather common. As a result, a lot of allegedly “innocent bystanders” have gotten arrested in police “kettles.”
The simple solution for a sensible person is to avoid those demonstrations. Don’t be a gawker. I would expand that advice to other areas: Avoid rough bars and strip clubs; don’t walk down dark streets in questionable neighborhoods at night; beware of abandoned buildings, dark parking lots, dark alleys—you get the idea.
Here’s an example: One of the best restaurants in St. Louis is located in a questionable neighborhood with its parking lot about a block away. After having to obviously flick my coat back to clear my pistol one night when three disadvantaged youths were following my wife and me to that parking lot, we dropped that restaurant from our list.
02 PRACTICE SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
I live in an open-carry, shall-issue, constitutional-carry state, so quite a few people carry guns—generally that’s a good thing. But I still like to know who around me is armed, so I apply the same observation skills I used when working protective details: I watch for people who keep patting their sides, walking in an odd manner, tucking a hand under a shirt or inside the pants, or exposing a holster when they bend over or reach.
And, I prefer not to broadcast that I’m armed. Even though open carry may be legal, I keep my pistol or pistols concealed and try to avoid making movements or gestures that indicate I’m armed.
In restaurants or other places where I am seated, I try to get a seat with my back to the wall where I can see the entrances and the cash register so I can anticipate potential problems. With most of my experienced friends, the rule of thumb is the guys packing the guns choose their seats first. That enhances security for everyone.
Speaking of entrances, just as I did on protective details, I make sure I know all the possible exits from wherever I am. In places such as theaters, I try to sit close to an exit. I also look around the area for potential cover. We eat often at a French bistro with dining on the patio. I like to sit near a large, heavy concrete planter. I’ve also evaluated fields of fire from behind it. Some would say paranoid, but I say prudent.
Understand the difference between cover, which may stop a bullet, and concealment, which may hide you from a bullet. I would also recommend training using cover. For 10- to 15-yard shooting, learn to use either the shooting hand or support hand depending on left-hand or right-hand cover to shield you the best.
I also practice firing my first shots from behind cover standing, go to my knees for the next shots, then go prone for the next shots. This magnifies the tendency of many shooters, especially poorly trained ones, to shoot high.
Always be suspicious of strangers—polite, but suspicious. Various things set off my radar. People with hoodies up always attract my attention, especially when the weather doesn’t indicate the need. In most cases, I do not shake hands when a stranger proffers his hand too quickly; where I live that can be a way of gaining control of your gun hand so Scumbag 2 can stick a knife in you or club you.
If someone does grab my gun hand, I am prepared to draw a knife available to my support hand and slash his arm to shreds. By the way, when I pass on shaking hands, I often say, “Sorry, sprained wrist.” It avoids insult, but if the individual has bad intent, it may give him the impression he has an advantage he doesn’t.
03 TRAIN LIKE YOU MIGHT HAVE TO FIGHT
For attacks in close quarters, train to fire from the ground, when rolling clear, when back peddling, when moving sidewise or to your rear, without turning fully or after pivoting. You can also make yourself a more difficult target by turning sidewise or going to a knee. An important technique when working protection details was practicing for an attack at very close quarters. We trained to punch or push, then draw to gain some distance to bring our weapon into action. I’m a great believer in delivering a punch that not only puts distance between the attacker and me, but also puts him out of action or limits his effectiveness.
In one “emerging nation,” I learned to use the draw technique in which the pistol is drawn and the support hand comes into position to meet it close to the chest. This serves two purposes: A shot may be taken quickly and there is less chance an attacker can gain control of the pistol. Know the 21-foot rule for an attacker with a knife—if you let him get within 21 feet, he will probably stab or slash you before you can draw your weapon.
04 RIDING IN A VEHICLE CAN BE DANGEROUS
A large part of the security planning for close protection is devoted to securing the principal when traveling in a vehicle. Though it is not likely that you and your family will be the targets of a kidnapping or assassination attempt of the type faced by many dignitaries, the danger of carjacking, road rage, or street crime still exists.
Many of the same precepts apply.
One of the most basic tenets of VIP protection when in vehicles is to vary the route as often as possible. As the most likely crimes against you and your family will not be of the preplanned terrorist variety, this will not be a major consideration. However, knowing alternate routes that will allow you to detour if you hear of civil disorder or sniping on a highway is useful.
A VIP driver and the protective team must always be alert to suspicious vehicles. So should you. A common armed robbery technique is to lightly run against a victim’s bumper at a stop sight to lure him or her from the vehicle to “exchange information.”
Be alert during fender benders, especially if hit by a car with suspicious looking driver and passengers. VIP drivers are always aware of vehicles creeping up to pull next to them at intersections—especially motorcycles or motor scooters with passengers. I am suspicious of drivers who pull next to me and “eyeball me.”
Beware also of street thugs who
“I ALSO TRAIN TO TAKE ‘HOSTAGE SHOTS’ ON THE ASSUMPTION THAT A FAMILY MEMBER MAY BE SEIZED.”
attempt to surround the vehicle when stopped for a stop sign. Doors should always be locked and you should be ready to use your vehicle as a weapon if needed, though for that to be justified you will have to be under obvious attack.
Filming street thugs with an iPhone may discourage them and may also offer evidence if you have to take action. Some might argue that it might make them angry, but if they are already threatening you, that threshold has been crossed. Definitely be aware of the danger of getting boxed in by a vehicle carrying gang members working with other gang members on the street corner. Unlike a VIP protection detail, you won’t have a trail car with additional shooters.
In an extreme case of civil unrest or an assault on a vehicle where it is immobilized, knowledge of techniques for exiting a vehicle under fire can be a lifesaver. Basic tactics are to evacuate on the side away from the major threat and to use the engine and/or wheel wells for cover. Rather than become immobile, however, it is better to attempt to exit the “kill box” in the vehicle.
If another vehicle has been pulled into position to block your escape ramming it may be necessary to escape. Standard tactics dictate ramming the portion of the target vehicle where the engine is not
(i.e. the rear on front-engine vehicles). This will increase the chances of pushing the target vehicle aside.
To be honest, such tactics are designed for trained drivers who have practiced the maneuver. Knowing how to do a J-turn offers another escape possibility. Oh, and have a good first-aid kit in your vehicle.
05 CAREFULLY CHOOSE WEAPONS AND TRAINING
Doing close protection also influences choice of weapons and training. An assumption in close protection that can carry over to protecting yourself and your family is when facing an attack another perpetrator may be coming. Just because you have neutralized an attacker does not mean there is not another one. Stay alert and scan for additional threats. Don’t forget to scan upward to windows, walkways, etc. I have found when training protective teams, many trainees get tunnel vision and forget to look up, down and around.
The precept that there may be another attack coming influences the practice of carrying multiple spare magazines and generally a second gun when working on protective details. This applies to the extent that I believe anyone carrying a
“A COMMON ARMED ROBBERY TECHNIQUE IS TO LIGHTLY RUN AGAINST A VICTIM’S BUMPER AT A STOP LIGHT TO LURE HIM OR HER FROM THE VEHICLE...”
handgun for protection should have at least one reload.
The fastest reload is usually a second gun, so that is an option that should be considered. I carry a pocket gun much of the time with a spare magazine in the opposite pocket. On occasion, however, I substitute a second pocket gun for the spare magazine.
In close protection situations, the need for multiple spare magazines and/or a spare gun is based on the likelihood of engaging multiply attackers and the need to give suppressive fire while the principal is evacuated. That same need could arise to protect family members.
When I carried a second gun on protective details, the second gun often offered an enhanced tactical option. It might have provided better long-range engagement capability (i.e. a SIG P210), had a light mounted for lowlight usage, or been loaded with AP (Armor-Piercing) or other penetrative ammo for use against vehicle-borne attackers or those wearing body armor.
The individual carrying a self-defense handgun will rarely go to such lengths, but I do recommend having a light along. It can either be a small SureFire flashlight, or it can be a compact weapons light carried in a jacket pocket. They can function as flashlights when not mounted on the gun or can be mounted for searching a dark area.
Remember, though, that the light that lets you see lets an attacker see to target you. I would recommend using the momentary feature on weapons lights so you are not a continuous target. I also have a double shoulder holster that lets me carry my primary handgun without a light and my backup handgun with a light mounted. I rarely wear it for everyday carry, but it was a viable option for protective jobs.
I mentioned long-range engagement. The ability to shoot with a handgun at 50 or even 100 yards is a very useful skill, especially if you have no choice but to face someone with a rifle.
Perhaps, it’s because I worked in Third World countries, but I developed confidence that with my P210 I could place shots at 100 yards as well as most of the locals armed with AK-47s—note I said most. I didn’t want to bring a pistol to a rifle fight, but if I had to, I wanted one that I could shoot at longer distances.
Incorporating some of the training techniques I use for close protection teams may prove decisive in a deadly encounter or may just vary training. More criminals and terrorists wear body armor today. Hence, practicing head or pelvic shots equips you to face an attacker that doesn’t go down. I also frequently practice Mozambique Drills (two to the center of mass, one to the head) for the same reason.
It is very important to practice “injured arm or hand” drills. Every time I practice, I fire at least one magazine with my support (left) hand to remind me that I can shoot with that hand if necessary. Periodically, I fire 50 rounds with my support hand and incorporate magazine changes as well. This builds skill with that hand but also reinforces in my muscle memory so I can switch hands and keep fighting if injured. I also train to take “hostage shots” on the assumption that a family member may be seized. Practice taking a headshot or shot at a small exposed portion of an assailant’s body enough and you will become confident you can do it if the need arises.
I practice these shots at 5 yards, 10 yards and 15 yards. I also train to quickly step in front of my wife or another family member to engage. This is standard training for members of a protective team, but is applicable in facing street threats.
To be honest, this tactic generally assumes that I would be wearing body armor, which I find uncomfortable for typical day-to-day wear, but I have practiced the drill so many times that I can engage very quickly while thrusting the person I am protecting away from the threat.
06 RETREAT OR STAND AND FIGHT
Perhaps the most important decision you may have to make quickly is whether to retreat, take cover and stand and fight, or advance on the threat. Generally, advancing will not be an appealing choice unless there is no easy retreat and the only possible way of escaping is to move towards an attacker and eliminate him to allow escape. Retreat without engagement remains the best option.
ALWAYS SWITCHED ON
This article is meant to offer some of the lessons learned from working on close protection teams. I have found that much of the experience I’ve gained in close protection does influence how I react in daily interactions and travel. I’m probably over-gunned sometimes and usually over cautious, but I am also more confident that I remain switched on to possible dangers.
At least I don’t have to study the photo array of possible threats to my principal when I head out to the grocery store, but does that make me more suspicious of everyone?
Left: If a neighborhood looks dangerous, it probably is. Peeter Viisimaa/ Getty Images Below: Even with a pocket pistol, always carry a spare magazine. FuzzMartin/Getty Images
Above: Carry a compact handheld or weapons mounted light; the weapon light may still be used as a handheld light if desirable. On protective assignments, Thompson sometimes carried his second gun with light mounted. Thomas Eckstadt?Getty Images
Above: Train for close quarters attacks. skynesher/Getty Images
Car-jackings and other street crime are common enough that you should be suspicious of anyone approaching your vehicle. Plan to take action before it's too late.Gregor Bister/Getty Images
Vehicle engine compartments and wheel wells make for good cover if attacked near your vehicle.