Top Shooting Drills and Zeroing Targets worth $47 FREE - Limited Period Offer

De-Escalation & Secondary Measures for Gun Owners

When all you have in your toolbox is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

Similarly, if all you do is carry a gun and punch holes in paper you may believe your firearm is the best possible solution for any conflict.

Guess what, though? It isn’t.

Ricks Gun Walking Dead

Here’s what you need to know about secondary defensive measures, de-escalation, and not letting your ego get the better of you.

Table of Contents


Why We Carry

We’ve all run into the swaggering John Wayne types of the gun world.

Those are the guys who carry for the cool factor alone, the guys who tend to post things to social media challenging the world at large – and some guy at the grocery store – to a fight.

The guys who dare people to “try me.” The ones who make sure anyone and everyone know they own guns (and often the same guys who push hard on open carry “because muh rights”).

Can’t decide whether to carry openly or concealed Why try not both at the same time! But don’t really
Can’t decide whether to carry openly or concealed Why try not both at the same time! But don’t really

Not only are those not the guys we want representing gun owners in general, they’re also not really the best ones to carry.

Now, before we wander off into the weeds of Second Amendment rights and How Dare You, let’s leave it at this: carrying a gun for self-defense is an enormous responsibility and should be taken seriously.

We carry guns for self-defense to defend our lives and the lives of our loved ones. A gun is not a badge of courage or a toy, it’s a tool.

Much like people see a fire extinguisher as a necessary part of their homes we see our firearms as a necessary part of our lives. It’s an insurance policy we hope we never have to take out but we will certainly be prepared should the time come.

pocket pistol meme

That means we train, we invest in high-quality gear, and we know the laws wherever we intend to carry. We understand our own limitations and work to improve our weaknesses and maintain our strengths.

We’re being responsible, law-abiding gun owners and protectors. We have no illusions, there is no posturing, and we understand the cold, hard realities of self-defense (at least I hope you do).

But do you understand the need for more tools in your self-defense toolbox than just a handgun?

Secondary Measures

There are other options on the market for self-defense that allow you to defend yourself without reaching for your gun. It makes you a prepared, well-rounded gun owner if you carry more than just your gun to stop a fight.

There are countless circumstances where a secondary measure will get the job done. Perhaps the most commonly used and known is pepper spray (it’s also commonly misused).

All too often parents hand a canister of pepper spray to their teenage daughters with the stone-faced admonition to “stay safe”.

Sabre 3-in-1 and Inert Training Spray
Sabre 3-in-1 and Inert Training Spray

Right, because an unfamiliar canister of pepper spray is the magic bullet against all would-be rapists and murderers. That’s not how this works, guys, that’s not how any of this works.

Thats not how the force works

All that said, pepper spray is an excellent secondary defensive tool. One of the popular brands out there is Sabre Red and fortunately for us they explain the realities of pepper spray rather clearly on their website:

“…[this] pepper spray is double the average strength. To put it into perspective, that’s 67X hotter than hot sauce and just as potent as our industry-leading police sprays.”

Best Pepper Spray
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

So, what exactly is it?

“Oleoresin capsicum (OC) is the oil taken from the placenta near the stem of a pepper. Although OC is the active ingredient used in most pepper sprays, the percentage of OC within the formulation does not indicate pepper spray strength. The OC percentage only measures the amount of red pepper contained in the pepper spray, not the pungency or effectiveness of the product.”

To put this in perspective Sabre Red goes on to explain on their website that “civilian and law enforcement pepper sprays range from 0.18% to 1.33% Major Capsaicinoids. Bear sprays range from 1.0% to 2.0% Major Capsaicinoids.”


Here are your bare basics. These numbers vary by brand but should give you a good idea what to expect from good pepper spray such as Sabre Red.

Their canisters produce a stream spray between 8 and 12 feet long. Once you’ve used your pepper spray it is smart to replace it. But should you really just point-and-spray?

The short answer is no.

Mist Pepper Spray
You gotta feel bad for the dudes that got sprayed in the face for marketing pictures.

Various factors must be considered when using pepper spray. The wind direction matters, and if you’re thinking it might be kind of inconvenient to stop and check the wind before sending a stream at an assailant, you’re not wrong.

That doesn’t negate its usefulness, though. You should spray to stop the threat as opposed to just one quick spray in the general direction of your assailant. Just as you shoot to stop a threat you spray to stop a threat. 

Understanding how to use pepper spray is important and I highly suggest you take a class. Sabre Red and other companies manufacture practice spray canisters without an irritant so you can familiarize yourself with its use in advance.

Think of it like dry-firing your gun: necessary, useful, and potentially life-saving. It’s also a good idea to get yourself sprayed in a controlled environment (most classes will include this part).

Sound crazy? More like smart because it lets you know what it can and cannot do.

Getting pepper-sprayed helps you understand how it works. When you rinse, lean forward to keep it from running down the front of your body. You can thank me later for that tip.

Of the various secondary defensive tools on the market pepper spray is perhaps the best. Tasers, knives, and saps have uses but pepper spray has them beat due in part to the fact that it can be deployed at a distance (of sorts).

Do keep in mind that many violent offenders are resistant to pepper spray or simply won’t care.

There are also people out there who can either completely ignore pepper spray or who are going to be enraged by it. Know how to use it, when to use it, and when to escalate to your gun, instead.

Stupid Measures

This seems like a good time to touch on worthless tools.

Women, specifically, are frequently advised to do things like put their keys between their fingers to use as a stabbing or raking weapon.

Keys between your fingers
This is a stupid idea. Period.

Guess what happens when you weave chunks of serrated metal between your sensitive fingers?

Your fingers bear the brunt of the damage and you may deal yourself an injury that drastically reduces your ability to defend yourself.

Another less-than-stellar tool on the market is known as Brutus. Full disclosure: I have a Brutus.

This is Brutus

He was given to me as a gift by a cop years ago and although I don’t actually carry him I never got rid of him. Brutus is a bulldog-face keychain with holes for your fingers where the dog’s eyes would be and sharpish points for ears.

The idea is that Brutus looks innocuous – it’s a harmless doggo, right? – but can actually work wonders defending your life.

Or can he?

When you use Brutus you’re going to have to be up-close-and-personal with your attacker and attempt to use his stubby little ears to deliver meaningful strikes.

Your attacker’s reaction when he sees you pull out Brutus

Good luck. Oh, and don’t break your fingers in the process or get your hand and arm grabbed and locked into a position where you have well and truly lost the fight.

I suppose Brutus is better than nothing – sort of – not really. You can do better.


One of the biggest problems in self-defense tends to come down to ego. But here’s the thing.

When people fight they end up injured, dead, arrested, sued, the list goes on.

If a potential fight can be de-escalated into something that does not mess up the rest of your life – or theirs – isn’t it worth it?

Don’t you think it’s worth being the mature adult in the situation?

Im an adult

If someone gets in your face that does not give you license to get right back in their face (or to draw your firearm).

As a gun owner you are going to be held to a higher standard for self-control and wisdom, meaning you should not and cannot wander around with a short fuse.

Law enforcement, judges, the general public – they will all expect you to be the level-headed one, and rightfully so. Introducing a gun into the situation should be considered the last resort, not the first.

Of course, if you’ve been ambushed or blatantly physically attacked there’s not going to be time to attempt to calm things down. Plenty of circumstances exist where immediately drawing your handgun is your only option.

Drawing CCW
A good CCW holster is critical when seconds count

But if we’re talking about a matter of some heated words from a potentially-unexplainably angry person there may be room for de-escalation.

Be the calmer, cooler person. Remember that the matter of respect does vary culturally.

For example, you may think little of a stranger looking at you sideways on the street but a man who is deeply ensconced in the streets may feel a sideways look is a grave insult (and the only proper response is an attack).

If someone is yelling at you angrily, don’t respond by hurling curse words and insults at them.

Be calm. Use non-confrontational but prepared body language and, if the situation calls for it, simply ask what is wrong. If it’s something as basic as bumping into someone on the street or knocking something over, apologize.

Isn’t a small, polite apology worth it to stave off a life-threatening altercation?

Get in touch with your inner Canadian

A word of advice: do not turn your back on a potential attacker. Not only could that be seen as dismissive behavior but it removes your ability to keep an eye on a developing situation.

If you can walk away, do it, but don’t do it by flat-out turning away from the threat and wandering off. Also, beware of the risks of falling down or running into things if you walk backward. Easing away at an angle while watching the threat tends to work best. 

Some suggestions. Read the book Verbal Judo, read any books written by Marc MacYoung or Rory Miller, and take MAG-40 with Massad Ayoob.

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Consider learning how to speak, stand, and behave to be a vital part of your self-defense training, because it is. Attempting to save your ego is not worth your death or the injuries or deaths of your loved ones. 

It is worth the investment of time and money to learn how to defuse a tense moment and avoid a fight. So many fights could be avoided if people just took the time to verbally de-escalate and remove themselves from the area. 

Any fight you walk away from or otherwise avoid is a win. Refusing to fight is not a sign of weakness it is a sign of significant strength.


What constitutes an attack worthy of escalation? Circumstances vary and all fights are different but there are a few things that remove the need to attempt de-escalation.

If an attacker rushes at you or moves toward you in a clearly threatening manner – think clenched fists, body sharply angled in your direction, or otherwise aggressive behavior – you probably don’t have time to try to talk them down.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Draw
Sometimes the only option is to draw and fire.

Any attacker who pulls a knife – or a gun – or produces any other kind of weapon is an imminent threat. Try to remember that anything can be an effective weapon when wielded with proper intent.

That means a thick branch, a glass beer bottle, and a lug wrench all qualify as life-threatening weapons.

Disparity of force is something else to consider. For me, as a woman, disparity of force tends to be more glaring.

Kat shooting G19
The author with the first Gen5 she ran when they were first launched in fall of 2017.

A large man capable of out-muscling me in a heartbeat will be seen as a greater threat to me than he would to another large man. Similarly, a healthy adult threatening an elderly or disabled person has a clear edge.

Does that mean if I find myself facing a woman who is smaller than me but gripping a knife I should consider myself the bigger, stronger person?

Of course not, she has a knife. And guess what? A solid hit to my head from a broom handle or a heavy purse can ring my bell hard enough to take me out of a fight just long enough for me to lose.

Purse on Couch
Don’t let the zebra strips fool you, those things can get heavy

Be aware what constitutes a legitimate threat so you are not taken by surprise.

Finish It

Society as a whole badly misunderstands the dangers of edged weapons and weapons in general.

Do not let a threat get too close and remember an attacker can close a gap with incredible speed. Think one second, three if you’re lucky.

knife attack
Knives kill. Don’t let them get close.

Weapons and improvised weapons enable them to harm or kill you with even greater speed.

I tell my kids they are never to start a fight but they’d better finish it.

Self-defense author Marc MacYoung has said he doesn’t have a problem with a woman striking her attacker, he has a problem with her failure to deliver a blow that breaks her attacker’s jaw and ends the fight on the spot.

When it comes time to end a fight, end it. Your ego should never be part of the equation and you should never go looking for a fight but if one finds you, by all means, finish it.

Beginner's Guide to Guns
Best Concealed Carry Guns By Caliber

Parting Shots

Training is critical in every aspect of self-defense. This includes training how not to fight.

The more tools you have at your disposal, the more able to face any situation you will be.

Don’t forget other areas to train, such as first-aid, what your local laws are, firearms training, and even concealed carry insurance.

You have the right to defend your life and your loved ones’ lives. You have the responsibility to handle yourself in a calm, reasonable manner and to de-escalate the situation when possible.

It won’t always be possible but it frequently will be. Learn to tell the difference. Someday your life may depend on it.

What other skills have you strengthened to improve your or your families self-defense capabilities? Let us know in the comments! To get started on some other tools to have in your toolbox, take a loot at these articles!

The Best Gun Deals, Coupons and Finds

Subscribe to Pew Pew Tactical's sales and deals email.

11 Leave a Reply

  • Clifford Bloom

    maybe the biggest problem is most people usually don't encounter these situations. Growing up in Chicago, I've been lucky enough to be robbed. mugged, had guns held to my head while I deposited the contents of my wallet, etc. I'll usually walk across the street away from trouble. The axiom in Chicago is if someone screws with you you screw them back 10X.

    June 16, 2020 9:58 pm
  • Craig Andersen

    As an attorney and a former felony prosecutor, I add this. Know the law in your state. Understand the concept of escalation of force. If you carry a gun; don’t start fights; avoid them. And train continuously. Carrying a gun means you are responsible for every bullet you fire. The difference of the bad guy and an innocent kid may be inches. When in doubt, walk away. If you can avoid shooting someone, it will be a good day. There are many consequences of killing. They are best avoided if possible. But if you must shoot; shoot to stop the assailant.

    June 14, 2020 4:47 pm
  • Scott Reed

    I have a question. If you were attacked by someone with a knife and you are not carrying a gun, and if (I know this is a big if) you disarmed them and get the knife. Are you justified in finishing the fight with their knife? Do you give them a chance to run away or do you press the attack as opportunity shows itself?

    June 12, 2020 12:36 pm
    • Marcus Aurelius Tarkus

      My 2 cents worth: When justifiably shooting at an assailant, you shoot until you stop the threat, and then you stop shooting. Without a gun, the same principle would apply, i.e., you defend yourself until the threat is stopped...decisively. Which might be apparent if your assailant runs away. If he doesn't, and is still aggressive, now have a knife, don't you?

      June 12, 2020 4:01 pm
      • Scott Reed

        Thanks for your input. I hear ya.

        June 16, 2020 11:46 am
    • Vic

      "If you were attacked by someone with a knife"

      You may well have a problem proving you were the victim..(The knife is in your hand they are on the ground right?) This is not merely speculative.. I personally know of several cases where similar incidents like the hypothetical you spoke of actually occurred..

      The first was in the early 70s where as Marine NCOs we were working at the Recruit Training Depot in San Diego.. A bad guy tried to rob one of my Fellow Marines at knife point as the Marine was walking back to the base. The bad guy was killed with his own knife. The local prosecutor decided it was 2nd Degree Homicide because according to him as Marines.. we were trained to deal with such problems and therefor there was no need to kill the bad guy...
      (actually the Marine's response was as close to autonomic as it gets).

      Had it not been for communications from the various Local Naval and Marine Base Commanders (Admirals and Generals) promising to put all of San Diego City "Off Limits" to servicemen. Which would mean no Servicemen could live in or enter the San Diego City Limits (massive loss of revenue) The prosecution finally dropped the charges. I am pretty sure no such support for the right of Self Defense would come from Military Commanders in these Politically Correct times today.

      The second instance , a young man I knew a few years back was attacked by a knife wielding assailant.. The young man's forearm was cut from the elbow to the wrist in the initial attack.. Similar situation however the bad guy did not die but it was close. The prosecutor in that case had no political push back and the boy was convicted of a lesser offense even tho it was clear and acknowledged he was the victim of the knife attack. He was prosecuted for taking the knife from assailant and fighting back seriously injuring the assailant..That does not make a lot of sense.. I agree but that is what happened..

      Why would this be?

      For one thing Prosecutors are Highly Politicized (Elected in most cases) and as we now know many of their Politcal Campaigns for the Office of District Attorney/ Prosecutor are financially supported by some ethically questionable international, ideologically driven interests who really object to self defense period and or subscribe to Social Justice Chaos Theory as a means to foster revolution.. ( and you thought they were just prosecutors trying to rack up convictions).

      There is another aspect to this.. For the longest time in many places possession of a concealed knife was a the same time a concealed firearm was a Misdemeanor.. That was is a reflection on the public perception that only bad guys carry concealed knives.. Those prejudices still remain in the jury pool.

      Now the following is my opinion not legal advice right ok?.. You have to decide for yourself.

      There is another training issue in this article that IMO needs to be addressed..

      Police are trained and use escalating force or a Force Continuum . Ideally using the minimal force required to keep the peace and or effect an arrest.

      Not only do they have considerable training .. they move up and down that escalator regularly even if they rarely in their careers use lethal force (If ever)...

      That is real world experience and continued training.. You and I do not have at least recently..

      So.. Keep it simple.. any situation which requires less than lethal force.. You need to get away.. Shuffle, walk run.. We cannot afford let our egos drive our conduct.. One should only Stand and fight regardless of the methods or tools where there is no other option. Those words are not just Pro Forma.. they are very important words to live by.. You cannot lose a fight you are not in...

      Especially if you are young your instincts are at odds with this PC Society..

      Did you know there was once a time where a couple fellas punching each other on the street and the Police arrived. If they were not drunk and no weapon used or serious injury requiring hospitalization .. the incident report would reflect.. "Mutual Combat" no arrests.

      Now here is the problem I have with Pepper Spray, Knife, clubs... Lawyers guns and money...Complexity is an enemy of self defense... We can only handle so many problems at once.. You and I have enough problems assessing if Lethal force is legally justified or not.. Forget about less than lethal force.. You can easily lose your right to be armed by spraying someone down with pepper spray.. (remember those prosecutors previously mentioned?.. yeah).

      Conflicts requiring force are not a common occurrence for most of us... Just keep it simple.. Avoidance and the only time you are going to use force .. will be when lethal force is clearly and unambiguously appropriate your last resort.. Get real training to rehearse and fully understand what must occur for lethal force to be justified. Even with all that... just get away..

      So if you carry a firearm.... IMO forget the pepper spray.. If you want to carry a folding pocket knife use it for whittling...

      Stay away from bad places.. keep in mind nothing good ever happens out after 10... Stay out of Dark alleyways and avoid sketchy people like the plague they are.

      Just my opinion.... I have some experience. and learned a thing or two in around 70 years on this planet.. There are some really outstanding training course available for civilians today... utilize them.. there are some quasi insurance programs to pay for legal defense.. Utilize them..

      Keep in mind Prosecutors do not like citizens engaging in self defense.. they routinely overcharge then "Negotiate " a plea deal (Life or 5 years your lawyer will tell you to take the 5 years) Yes there are a lot of things really wrong with our Justice system and it is an needs changing but it is what it is right now..

      It costs a lot of money to put on a good defense..

      That they prosecute many pretty clear cases of self defense IMO more often than not is for Ideological purpose rather than Justice.. is the way it is right now..

      We have to Deal with what is.. while we all work to make things better

      Get qualified training .. pay for it... Get "insurance" pay for it..

      Keep it simple..

      Lots of Lucks...

      June 13, 2020 11:03 am
      • Scott Reed

        Thanks for your opinion. Points well taken.

        June 16, 2020 11:46 am
  • Muhammad Saif

    Excellent article. I very much appreciate that it is an ‘all inclusive’ approach and does not insinuate a particular narrow way of thinking or living.

    June 11, 2020 8:10 pm
  • Rich Childs

    I liked the line " you should never go looking for a fight but if one finds you, by all means, finish it" the best. I often carry, as I work in pretty rough neighborhood. I have been confronted more than once by scumbags in our parking lot. I look them straight in the eye and tell them if they're looking for an easy mark, I'm not it and it would be best for all involved for them to move along. I know both how to fight and how to avoid a fight (sometimes by getting inside someone's head), and I train often on drawing my weapon quickly (at home in private of course), praying I will never need to do so. We live in some really screwed up times, with criminals seeming to be viewed with more rights than their victims. I will not be a victim. You start the fight, I will finish it, by whatever means necessary.

    June 11, 2020 6:37 pm
  • Marcus Aurelius Tarkus

    I routinely and legally carry more than one concealed tool of self-defense. Six weeks away from my 70th birthday, I was recently confronted verbally, and it was not Batflu-related. It had to do with two people in the short checkout line behind me erupting in a verbal attack on me due to my having to civilly talk the clerk (dumber than a bag of hammers) through the simple math of giving me correct change. I totally ignored the foul-mouthed woman. The more obnoxious man--a typical banty-rooster--dared me (I'm fit, 6'4" 240#) to walk over him. I told him I wouldn't dirty the soles of my shoes. Too late. He won on points just by getting a response.

    In short, two people refused to mind their own damn business and butted into mine. I wish I had just ignored both. It has to be the better way, especially nowadays. Just don't respond to any verbal abuse. On the other hand, if someone lays a hand on you, be trained and prepared to bring about a fast and proportionately decisive finish. That can be done totally without words.

    In this whole context, I am reminded of one of my favorite movie lines, spoken by John Wayne as retired gunfighter J.B. Books in The Shootist (1976): “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted and I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people and I require the same from them.”

    Now, the part about not being insulted can work this way: If you don't take offense, you can't be insulted. Whatever the size of the slur, you're bigger.

    One last thought. I said this episode was not Batflu-related. Withdrawn. It probably would not have happened say, last year. Rage is the real pandemic of 2020.

    June 11, 2020 5:19 pm
    • Taig

      Absolutely superb article, Kat. Glad you took the time to prepare it and put it up. It got me thinking and that’s important. Damn if we don’t live in the strangest of times. De-escalation belongs in everyone’s defense toolbox, without question.

      Marcus Aurelius, I loved your comments too! Love your name, btw! Truthfully though, so much of defense really IS learning how to weight the situation and potential consequences quickly and well beforehand.

      Thanks to both of you!

      June 11, 2020 5:59 pm
New to Guns ? Check out our beginners guns video course. Start Now