Something just seemed wrong about the man approaching Cathy in the shopping center’s parking lot.

He said, “Ma’am, could you help me? I need directions to the nearest gas station.” Those words were fine, but their tone wasn’t. The man was acting strangely and getting too close. Cathy felt uncomfortable. She moved to keep her shopping cart between herself and the man and, when he kept coming, she pushed the cart into him as hard as she could before jumping into her vehicle and speeding off.

She got away, but this was the day that Cathy decided she needed to look into purchasing a gun for self-defense. She called me and signed up for a gun-safety class.

As a firearms instructor, I often hear stories similar to Cathy’s. Some have only felt threatened, but some have been harmed.

When I took Cathy to the shooting range, she was nervous and unsure of her ability to hit the target. Like many women I’ve instructed, She was equally unsure about the decision to take another person’s life, should a situation warrant deadly force. “I just don’t know if I can actually shoot someone,” she told me. “What about just aiming for their knees?”

Five Ways to Avoid Becoming a Victim
The author teaching a concealed-carry class. She also teaches self-defense handgun and specializes in helping women learn to protect themselves.

As she worked on the basic marksmanship fundamentals and self-defense drills, such as drawing from her holster, taking quick shots, and shooting one-handed, Cathy began to discover that she felt empowered and capable of defending herself. She also decided to take the next step in protecting herself and signed up for my concealed-carry class.

The Criminal’s Mind

In order to understand the importance of protecting yourself, you must first understand the criminal mind. A criminal doesn’t care that you have a family that loves you. They have decided to take what they want, and what they want might be your life.

They also know that, psychologically, women tend to be passive. Women more often try to avoid confrontation. We would rather try to work out a problem by talking than resort to fighting back. We trust other people and try to be helpful when we can. Also, physically, women are generally weaker and slower. Could Cathy have fought her way out of that situation in the parking lot? Probably not.

So then, how can we work to prevent criminal attacks? Let’s look at five proactive steps to help avoid becoming a victim.

Five Ways to Avoid Becoming a Victim
The author, left, teaches women not to ignore that inner voice that’s telling you something’s not right. She teaches how to avoid dangerous situations and who to deal with one that happens nevertheless.

1. Avoid distractions: Multi-tasking has become normal in order to get things done as quickly as possible. Cell phones allow us to conduct business, keep up with family, and carry on conversations with friends, around the clock. Through our distractions, we open the door for criminals to take advantage of us. Don’t let this happen.

2. Pay attention: This naturally follows into the first step. When you’re walking, pay attention to your surroundings and walk with purpose. Keep your head up, survey the area, and save phone calls and texting for later. Practice observing details such as clothing, tattoos, colors of cars, and other identifying marks. Would you be a good witness?

3. Don’t feel as if you have to be nice: If someone approaches you, firmly tell him to “Stop and get away!” Criminals are predators. They seek out the weak and look for someone they can easily overpower. Use your voice and your body language to show them you’re not an easy target.

4. Listen to your gut: Observe those around you. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, or if something seems wrong or out of place, get out of the area! Don’t ignore that inner voice that’s telling you something’s not right.

5. Protect yourself: Despite your best intentions, there’s still the possibility that you’ll become a criminal’s target. Do you have a way to physically fight back? As a firearms instructor, I obviously promote carrying a gun for personal protection. As President Ronald Reagan once said, “The gun has been called the great equalizer, meaning that a small person with a gun is equal to a large person.” With the proper training, a firearm can give women a fighting chance against attackers who are generally bigger and stronger than they are.

If you can’t bring yourself to carry a gun for personal protection, at least consider another option, such as pepper spray or a Taser. Take some martial arts classes to better prepare yourself for a physical attack.

Five Ways to Avoid Becoming a Victim
The author, left, showing someone who is new to guns how to safely shoot.

I often think about my grandparents, who lived on a farm most of their adult lives, raising livestock and growing crops. Grandma was one of the sweetest women I’ve ever known, but she was also tough. I can remember her telling me about the times when she’d have to go catch a chicken, wring its neck, scald it, pluck out the feathers, clean it, and then cook it. She never seemed happy about that job, but she did it anyway, knowing that it was necessary.

That’s how I look at the decision to carry a firearm. It’s a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it should be considered. I hope and pray that I never have to use a gun in self-defense, but I know that in today’s society it’s necessary. To decide not to carry means that I leave myself, as well as my family, unprotected.

Stacy Bright is an NRA Certified Pistol & Rifle Instructor and a Missouri Concealed Carry Instructor.