Skip to main content

Profiling and Personal Defense: How to Assess Dangerous Situations


The lawful carry of a concealed handgun is an important component of personal defense, but the mere possession of a gun is no guarantee of safety. Obviously, you must be proficient in the use of your chosen handgun to include safe handling, proper manipulation, efficient drawing from concealment and the ability to hit what you are aiming at. But there's more to concealed carry than mastery of these physical skills. If you're unable to detect a potential threat in time to respond, all the firearms proficiency in the world isn't going to help you.

Rather than being lulled into a false sense of security because you're armed, you should strive to be constantly aware of your surroundings for signs of potential danger. The faster you detect these red flags, the more time you'll have to process the information and make a decision that is both tactically sound and legally defensible. Assessing a dangerous situation requires alertness.

An excellent model for understanding alertness as it pertains to personal defense was developed by the late Col. Jeff Cooper, who assigned colors to different levels of alertness. "Cooper's colors," as they've come to be known, have been widely used in military, law enforcement and personal defense training for decades. Cooper's simple concept is based on four colors.

Condition white is used to describe someone who is completely unaware of his or her surroundings and oblivious to potential danger. Ideally, condition white should only be attained while you're asleep, but many people unfortunately live their lives in condition white. You've seen these people jogging alone at night wearing headphones, walking to their vehicles in a deserted parking lot while texting, or sitting on a bus bench intently reading the newspaper.

Those who fall into the condition white category can be described as "blissfully ignorant." When confronted with danger, their response will be significantly delayed because they think it could never happen to them.

Condition yellow is equated to a relaxed state of alertness. A person in condition yellow keeps his or her head up in order to take in the surroundings. Condition yellow is not representative of a person who is hypervigilant or paranoid, but rather someone who realizes they could be targeted by a criminal or endangered by someone in condition white.

Imagine a driver in condition white approaching a crosswalk while texting on his cell phone. A pedestrian in condition yellow starts to step off the curb into the crosswalk, but notices the vehicle is not going to stop. Condition yellow saves lives because it takes into account bad things can happen and it gives you the opportunity to spot potential danger in time to respond accordingly.

Condition orange describes a situation where a potential threat has been identified and you are prepared to respond. As you can imagine, it's much quicker to go from condition yellow to condition orange than to "wake up" from condition white and have to bound over condition yellow to recognize a threat. While condition white can be viewed as not alert enough, condition orange is too alert for the average person to remain in for an extended period of time.

An example of condition orange: While walking to your vehicle, you glance over your shoulder and notice a man approach you at a faster than normal pace with one hand near the rear of his waistband.

The man's approach is cause enough for concern. When you add to that the fact that his hand is near the rear of his waist — widely considered the most common location to carry a concealed weapon — the little hairs on the back of your neck should be on end.

Since you've perceived the potential threat, you can take appropriate action, which would likley involve moving to a position of cover while drawing your gun from concealment, and ordering the man to stay back.  The man's response to your actions will dictate whether you can bring the situation under control, or kick things up a notch to condition red.


Condition red is the highest level of alertness on Cooper's color scale.  It signifies a specific threat has been confirmed and you are prepared to respond.  Condition red does not necessarily mean you are pressing the trigger to the rear but it certainly means that you're prepared to, based on the actions of your adversary.

In the situation described above, if you were to observe a black object in the man's hand, you will have transitioned from condition orange to condition red. If you then determine the object is a cell phone, additional verbal commands and the utilization of available cover may be in order. On the other hand, if the man produced a gun and pointed it in your direction, shooting the man in order to stop the threat would be warranted.

Don't bet your life on marksmanship alone. Give yourself an edge by remaining alert to potential threats. If you're armed, you don't have the luxury of operating in condition white.

Elderly Man Thwarts Armed Robbery

On July 13, two 19-year-old armed robbers entered a Marion County, Fla., Internet cafe carrying a pistol, a baseball bat and a large bag. Before the duo could make off with any cash, 71-year-old Samuel Williams sprang into action with his .380, firing at the robbers when their backs were turned, sending them scrambling out the door and possibly saving the lives of his fellow customers. When the two showed up later at a nearby hospital, they were arrested by the police and charged with robbery. No charges were sought against Williams.

Maine Man Uses .22 for Defense

A rimfire probably isn't the first thing you might reach for when push comes to shove, but for 24-year-old Daniel Williams of Hermon, Maine, his .22-caliber handgun proved to be enough. When a trio of intruders forced their way into Williams' home on Feb. 16 — one of them armed with a knife — and began attacking Williams and his roommate, 24-year-old Luis Ramos, Williams ran for his bedroom and grabbed his .22, shooting two of the intruders and their car before they got away — though police caught up with them later at the hospital. Maybe it lacks the authority of some bigger bores, but this story just goes to show those little .22s can prove surprisingly handy when faced with danger.

Woman Uses Nunchucks Against Ex

When an unidentified Maine woman was confronted by her drunken, jealous ex-boyfriend, 33-year-old Christopher Rolling Fox, a physical confrontation ensued, during which time she was punched and kicked by the spited Fox. However, Fox didn't count on her grabbing the pair of decorative nunchucks off the wall and delivering a few blows to the head. Fox gave chase when she escaped the apartment, but gave up the pursuit when he realized she was on the phone with 911. He was later arrested after giving a false name to the authorities.

Gunman Killed at Indy Gun Shop

Brian Wayner, 26, headed into Don's Guns in Indianapolis with evil intentions; at about 12:21 p.m., Wayner fired two rounds at the 26-year-old clerk, Ben Chance, with a gun he'd just rented. Though critically wounded, Chance returned fire, killing Wayner with one shot. Eyewitness accounts say Chance's actions likely saved lives. "It scared me to death. We just left," said Gillase Samples, who was in the shop about 10 minutes earlier. "They could have been waiting for us to leave. They could've shot us too."

Armed Robber Distracted by Dog, Shot

Leave it to man's best friend to lend a helping hand any way they can. Doug Downs, 48, and his roommate/caretaker Andy Boyd, 36, were confronted Oct. 23 by a group of armed robbers intent on cleaning out Downs' downstairs safe. While holding Boyd at gunpoint downstairs, one of the robbers, James Herlth, confronted Downs, who was upstairs in his recliner with his Jack Russell terrier/pug mix, Peaches. When the two began struggling for Herlth's gun, Peaches sprang into action, jumping and barking at the armed robber and distracting him long enough for Downs to grab the revolver from his recliner. He then fired three shots at Herlth, hitting him in the neck, chest and hands — Herlth would suffer yet another gunshot, this time from a 12-gauge fired by one of his bonehead accomplices. All four intruders were apprehended, and though Downs felt bad for having to shoot Herlth, he wasn't about to let things get worse. "I felt bad because I had to shoot (Herlth), but it was either him or me, and I wanted to live."

LL Cool J Knocks Out Intruder

Just like his hit song, LL Cool J will in fact knock you out, as 56-year-old Jonathan A. Kirby found out the hard way. After breaking into the rapper/actor's home, the transient intruder went mano-a-mano with LL, born James Todd Smith, suffering a broken nose and jaw. Kirby was detained by LL until the cops showed up; he was arrested and charged with first-degree burglary with a person present.

Mom Thwarts Son's Sort-Of Armed Robbery

We've all been embarrassed by our parents at some point in our lives, but never so much as 22-year-old Roy Mitchell, whose mother, Sharron Mitchell, snatched a fake gun from her son as he tried to hold up a convenience store July 3 in Brandon, Miss. Mitchell apologized to the clerk and asked not to call the police. However, police were called, and Roy was arrested on a charge of attempted armed robbery. Good going, mama's boy.

14-Year-Old Shoots Armed Intruder

We could preach the importance of teaching your child proper firearms operation and discipline until we're blue in the face, so we'd rather point to this story from June in which a 14-year-old Phoenix boy shot an intruder breaking into the family's home. The boy, who was babysitting his younger siblings, heard someone forcing their way into the house and rushed his siblings upstairs. After grabbing a handgun from his parents' bedroom, he found a man breaking open the front door. The man pointed a gun at the boy, who fired once, hitting the intruder and putting him in the hospital and earning him some jail time. Tragedy averted, police said, thanks to the boy's quick thinking and excellent training. "The police and indeed our community does not ever want to see a situation where a teenager of that age has to take a weapon to protect his family €¦ but this young man did exactly what he should have done," said Phoenix Police Officer James Holmes. "I'm not sure he gave full thought about what he had to do. He just acted."

Single Mom Kills Armed Intruder

In January, 18-year-old Sarah McKinley, a recently widowed mother, came face-to-face with a pair of intruders breaking into her home, one of them armed with a 12-inch hunting knife. While on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, she asked if she'd be justified in shooting the intruders. The dispatcher responded, "I can't tell you that you can do that but you do what you have to do to protect your baby," and that's what McKinley did, shooting 24-year-old Justin Martin, killing him and sending his partner, Dustin Stewart, high-tailing it out of there. McKinley's actions were defended by law enforcement under Oklahoma's Castle Doctrine. Detective Dan Huff of the Blanchard (Okla.) Police Department said, "You're allowed to shoot an unauthorized person that is in your home. The law provides you the remedy, and sanctions the use of deadly force."

Father Kills Molester During Attack

One of the most horrifying scenarios a parent could face is someone abusing their child, and one Texas father wasn't about to let someone get away with it. During a family gathering near Shiner, Texas, a 23-year-old father caught 47-year-old Jesus Mora Flores sexually abusing his 4-year-old daughter and began pummeling the attacker, hitting him repeatedly in the head; Flores was declared dead at the scene. The father was noticeably distraught on the 911 tape, but the state refused to charge the father as the use of deadly force is allowed in the prevention of a sexual assault under Texas law.

Current Magazine Cover

Enjoy articles like this?

Subscribe to the magazine.

Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Eric Poole and Tom Beckstrand put the Aimpoint Acro P-2 to the test.

New Stocky's Rifle Stocks for 2023

Eric Poole and Tom Beckstrand put the Aimpoint Acro P-2 to the test.

New for 2023: Christensen Arms Modern Hunting Rifle (MHR)

Eric Poole and Tom Beckstrand put the Aimpoint Acro P-2 to the test.

New for 2023: All-American RIA 5.0 Sporting Pistol

Eric Poole and Tom Beckstrand put the Aimpoint Acro P-2 to the test.

New for 2023: FN Rush 9Ti Pistol Suppressor

Eric Poole and Tom Beckstrand put the Aimpoint Acro P-2 to the test.

New Big Bore Pistols for 2023: FN 510 Tactical and FN 545 Tactical

Eric Poole and Tom Beckstrand put the Aimpoint Acro P-2 to the test.

New for 2023: FN SCAR 15P Rifle Caliber Pistol

Eric Poole and Tom Beckstrand put the Aimpoint Acro P-2 to the test.

New for 2023: TaurusTX 22 Compact

Eric Poole and Tom Beckstrand put the Aimpoint Acro P-2 to the test.

First Look: Taurus Raging Hunter 460 Magnum Revolver With 10.5-Inch Barrel

Eric Poole and Tom Beckstrand put the Aimpoint Acro P-2 to the test.

New-for-2023 Taurus Judge Executive Grade 410/.45 Colt Revolver

Eric Poole and Tom Beckstrand put the Aimpoint Acro P-2 to the test.

Smith & Wesson Equalizer and the Brand New M&P 5.7 Pistol

Eric Poole and Tom Beckstrand put the Aimpoint Acro P-2 to the test.

Acro Distance Challenge

Eric Poole and Tom Beckstrand put the Aimpoint Acro P-2 to the test.

Acro Speed Challenge

Guns and Ammo Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Guns & Ammo App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Guns & Ammo stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now