Self Defense From Inside Your Car

Your holster may offer excellent accessibility when you’re standing, but will you be able to draw your gun when belted in behind the steering wheel?

Starting last summer, the Illinois city I policed for two decades began to have a crime problem that prompted some deep thought on my part. The crime issue facing Rockford wasn’t exactly new, but it was the first time since concealed carry had passed in the state that a gang was repeatedly perpetrating this crime and targeting women.

The gang had named themselves the Get Money Team, which they abbreviated down to the acronym GMT. This gang was an amalgamation of male juvenile offenders, some as young as 12 years old. Their entire goal was to get money…now. Despite the young age of the members of GMT, they were carjacking women at gunpoint. Their modus operandi was to target unsuspecting women at trapped at stoplights, point a firearm at them, which would provide them with a temporary advantage due to the understandable shock, and then rip the women from their cars and drive away. They would occupy the car long enough to get the valuables out of the purse or car, and then abandon it.

I don’t live in Rockford, but I do sometimes go there and began strategizing my response if I too, were faced with such a violent criminal confrontation. It occurred to me that what is taught in basic concealed carry courses really doesn’t prepare someone for this sort of attack. Actually, Illinois’ concealed carry course doesn’t prepare students for any kind of attack.

So I complied a list of tips for personal defense in a car that includes tactics, practices, and concealed carry considerations that every citizen carrying concealed should practice regularly. Here it is:

1. Keep Your Doors Locked and Windows Up

This may seem like a no-brainer, but not everyone drives a car that automatically locks or has air conditioning, allowing the driver to keep the windows closed. If you’re a driver or a passenger in a vehicle that doesn’t lock the doors automatically, the task of locking them now becomes yours.

I won’t linger on this tip, but I will mention that if the doors are locked and the windows up, no one can easily get in or reach into the cab of your car. (Plus, I learned first-hand a couple years ago that if your keep your windows up, that disturbed individual who had escaped from a facility won't be able to lick your face!)

2. Leave Yourself an “Out”

Until I became a police officer, no one had ever taught me the importance of leaving an escape route open when stopped at a red light or at some other traffic control device. I was actually graded on it.

Learning to subconsciously build in enough space to allow a means of egress before stopping your vehicle is important, because the best response to a criminal encounter is to remove yourself from it. (Additionally, if I was ever in a situation in which armed subjects approached my car from various angles, I think I would take the knockdown power and accuracy of the vehicle over any firearm.)

3. Check Your Holster and Practice Access

We are usually pretty good about testing out concealment holsters when we put them on for the day. We make sure nothing is showing, that we can access the firearm swiftly without getting hung up on clothing, and that we can release the retention mechanism.

Far fewer of us, however, do these same tests in the car. I think we assume that while we are in our vehicles we are somehow safer…or that we would not need to access our firearms. After several incidents of officers getting ambushed in their squad cars, law enforcement trainers realized that we must train officers to draw and shoot from inside their cars.

There are a number of things that I observed about accessing a firearm from certain holster types while in a car:

• Inside-the-waistband or outside-the-waistband holsters are the most common holsters used, and in order to access a gun from when seated in a driver’s seat, the wearer has to release the apparel surrounding the firearm that may be trapped by the seatbelt. Users also should ensure that the firearm isn’t entrapped by the seatbelt itself. The seatbelt will usually fall where the firearm is holstered, which can and has resulted in inadvertent release of the magazine by the seatbelt or seatbelt stem. If this happens to a firearm that has a magazine disconnect, the user will be left with a dead trigger.

• Ankle holsters are some of the most difficult to access because the dashboard and steering wheel take up space and greatly reduce flexibility. In order to access a gun in an ankle holster, the driver usually has to release the seatbelt. Bending down below the dashboard may also cause the user to lose the line of sight with the threat. Another challenge is bringing that firearm up from the holster without inadvertently muzzling yourself or other occupants.

• I’m not a fan of carrying a firearm off of your body, but I know that many women use concealed carry purses. As cumbersome as I think retrieving a firearm from a purse while under stress would be for me, I can’t imagine doing so from the driver’s seat of a car. Standard personal safety advice from law enforcement is not to leave your purse on your front seat when driving because of the potential for theft through the passenger side window. So placing that purse anywhere else just makes accessing and orientating the purse that much more complicated. I carry my purse in my trunk most of the time, making access impossible.

• Unload your gun and practice drawing it from any holster you will use. This is something you have to experience, not imagine. When seated in the car, usually the holster will position the firearm into the seat as opposed to outside of it. You may find that the holster you’ve been wearing is not as accessible as you fantasized, because the angle or cant of the holster and the retention mechanisms may make drawing the firearm very difficult or even impossible. Additionally, left handed and right-handed shooters face very different dilemmas while seated in a car. Likewise, the seating position in a car and the model of the car all present very different scenarios for those carrying concealed.

4. Know That Shooting From a Car is Different

Most civilians don’t get the experience of shooting in and around a car, so I want to share a few things about that scenario. Glass does affect bullet trajectory, but the impact is insignificant for the purposes of close-quarters shooting. If the threat is very close there is no need to modify aim.

The first shot or two will deform the projectile and this can impact bullet trajectory, but it could also positively impact the wound cavity. After the first of couple rounds the glass will likely no longer be there and ergo, will no longer be a problem.

When you shoot through glass you will get glass on you. You will probably breathe in some shards and get some in your eyes. This is a better scenario than failing to address a lethal force encounter and I only mention it so that if this scenario does occur, you won’t be shocked.

Practice how you will shoot your firearm. In these close confines you will not get full arm extension. If shooting is necessary, the threat will be close and you won’t be able to use the gun’s sights to aim at the target.

In the unlikely event that you’ll use your vehicle for cover or as a shooting position, be aware that taking up a shooting position behind the engine block requires that the muzzle clear the car hood–otherwise you’ll probably shoot your car. This is a factor because the hood may not be visible in your sight picture because of your proximity to it. Shooting your car might not be the worst part of that scenario (I have a couple cars that I need to put down anyway); the worst part is potentially wasting valuable ammunition – not to mention using it against the one thing that is trying to protect you.

Understand tactics to prevent and deter victimization in the car, test the accessibility of your holster, practice any necessary modifications to shooting mechanics in and around your car, and mentally rehearse these scenarios. They’ll help you prepare should a GMT-type gang crop up in your community.