Survival

Here’s How to Survive an Armed Robbery

burglar with a gun

The stick-up is a crime nearly as old as time: a robber, sometimes more than one, threatens you with harm or death if you don’t part with your valuables. It is one of the first proper violent crimes many criminals commit, and one of the most common threats in many places, rural or urban, all around the world.

The simple fact that a wallet full of cash or credit cards will get your average highwayman a little farther down the line with a full belly and some spending money, and that means you can never assume you won’t be the target of robbery.

There were an estimated 319,356 robberies nationwide in 2017.

https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2017/crime-in-the-u.s.-2017/topic-pages/robbery

Protecting yourself and your loved ones against the threat posed by robbery is a common thread in the self-defense world, and you’ll find no shortage of cops, gun gurus and martial artists who have purportedly cracked the code on getting out of a robbery with loot, life and limb intact. Some get closer than others; some may set you up for failure.

In reality, there is no one-size-fits-all technique or tactic that will get you out of a situation like that unscathed 100% of the time. A high-percentage chance of success means learning to stay cool, quickly read the situation, evaluate your options and acting with split-second timing. Nothing else will do. IN this article, we’ll teach you how.

Panting a Bullseye on your Back, or, How to Get Robbed

Robbery may occur as an accessory to another crime, but the majority of robbers are not out committing flagrant mayhem with a chance of a score. Most of them are doing it for sustainment, or as their profession!

Plainly put, robbers are after your money, or your things they can turn into money quickly with little risk of exposure, i.e. jewelry, electronics, etc. In order to get those items, they’ll be looking for a certain kind of person (victim): someone who has those things, and someone who won’t put up too much fight and fuss.

Robbers, like most criminal scumbags, are basically predatory. Like any good predator, they want a meal without spending a fortune in energy, risk or injury to get it.

Most lions won’t go after a healthy buffalo unless they are desperate. Most robbers won’t go after jocked up, alert and tough looking males unless they are trying to prove a point or are similarly desperate.

All of this natural bias when it comes to “prey selection” tells us an awful lot about the thought processes of robbers. Using that, we can picture ourselves as both victim and a “next” as in “next, please”; someone they would rather not mess with.

The first part of becoming “food” for a robber is to be where food is typically found. In the African savannah, this is often near waterholes. For humans in the concrete jungle, this could be an ATM, a place where drugs are frequently bought and sold or any part of town where the affluent and well-heeled shop and play.

Other areas could be out of the way places, or any place where a crime is likely to go unreported by witnesses even if it is seen.

That’s the first element. The second is to look like someone who can be shaken down easily with little fight or fuss. If they can, robbers will do their work as quickly and discreetly as possible so they attract as little attention as possible. The quicker and cleaner, the better.

Attention means possible reinforcement, or having the “hounds” (law enforcement) set on them. Don’t make the mistake, though, of thinking that making a scene will save your bacon; it might just get you beaten, shanked or shot for your insolence.

Anyway, if you look properly tough (and don’t fake it unless you know you can), jacked with muscle, or just crazy and potentially deadly, you might likely be left alone; there is always more food to be had for your common robber.

But, on the other hand, if you look weak, infirm, unconfident and perhaps lost, or distracted, you’ll attract robbers like hyenas to a wildebeest carcass if they think they can get away with it.

You ever noticed how it is overwhelmingly “those same people” who get mugged? It is the elderly, women, and men who have their heads up their butts.

They all say the same thing when they are getting interviewed, and the interaction between them and the robber goes one of two ways: “He came outta nowhere!” “I never saw him coming.” “He just appeared?” Sound familiar..?

And the robber, suddenly appearing in the victim’s personal space (the danger zone) will conduct the robbery in one of two ways, either coming out with the threats and often with weapons immediately and making demands of you for your money or your life.

The other way is the “soft pass” where the robber asks the victim for help in some way- the time, a light, directions, etc.- before waylaying them when you try to help. Law of the jungle, my friends.

If you don’t want to be a victim, don’t look like one and don’t be where good victims congregate. The latter part is easy enough if you pay attention, but the first part takes a little more work.

Taking off the Victim Uniform

If our common robber is looking for an easy score from someone who is of weaker stature and meeker comportment, anything you do that enhances that perception increases your chances of being chosen for victimhood.

Likewise, anything at all you can do that squashes that perception will decrease your chances of being chosen, all things being equal.

So what can you do to look like the least ideal candidate for a stickup? Well, for starters, you can stand up straight, put your shoulders back, and appear calmly confident and observant.

When you walk, walk with purpose at a decent pace; not rushing to get through or away from an area but not slowly like you are lollygagging.

Take notice of the people around you; don’t stare them down, that can start trouble on its own, but definitely look them in the eye as an acknowledgement.

Looking away or glancing furtively signals fear and uncertainty; catnip to muggers.

Even if you are scared or nervous from finding yourself by design or accident on the wrong side of the tracks, you had better channel your inner Tom Cruise and appear cool, confident and collected.

Don’t be distracted, either, though you can only do so much to mitigate that and actually, you know, get through your day. Being engrossed in something like operating the ATM, loading items into or taking them out of your car and zoning out on your phone are all invitations to getting whacked.

Paying attention is key. Knowing your environment, what is normal and what is not, as well as what the people in it are doing will reveal much about their intentions. Learn to spot the signs and you’ll be able to detect a “pre-robbery” setup before it actually happens.

Spotting Pre-Robbery Signs

You ever play poker? If you do with any seriousness, you’ll know about tells. Tells are the little physical and verbal tics that betray what is on a player’s mind, and what is in his hand.

The majority of people have all kinds of tics and tells for all kinds of things. What you need to know is that there is a distinct set of broadly universal “tells” that people who are prepared to do violence and commit crime will display immediately prior to the lead up of the event.

Concerning personal crimes of violence (of which robbery is one) these are called “pre-attack indicators.”

For one of the most common types of robbery, the “innocent request/counterfeit plea” robbery, it will always begin with someone entering your personal space.

They cannot after all rob you from across the street or across the parking lot! You must always be on guard for anyone entering your personal space for any reason with no cover for being there. “Cover” meaning in this use a valid excuse for their presence.

Be wary of anyone approaching you for some innocuous favor, like the aforementioned light for a cigarette, asking for the time, asking for directions and so forth. You might not think it very kind, but you must be suspicious!

Any of the above are common preludes to get you to let your guard down before attacking you. If you are thinking to yourself how you are, in reality, supposed to keep everyone out of your personal space in public, I’ll tell you right up front that you can’t.

Unless you are living at DEFCON 1 24/7 and in the midst of a take-no-chances survival situation, you will not be able to negotiate anything resembling a normal life in public in kind times. People are all around us, all the time, unless you live wayyyy out in a remote or rural area.

The trick is qualifying who is in your space. Standing in line waiting to be served at a restaurant and someone is milling around right behind you? Well, they certainly have the same reason for being there that you do.

Loading packages into your car in the middle of a mostly empty parking lot and you are approached, in the dark, by someone asking for something? Major red flag!

Anyone who interacts with you could be buying time, sizing you up, or keeping you rooted to the spot while his accomplices work your flanks and back (or they are waiting for witnesses and possible help to move away). Sure, maybe they really do need a light/directions/whatever, but you won’t know until it is too late to do anything about it.

The “soft pass” accompanied by any of the following behaviors means the stranger likely has ill intent. Some people will display a few or all of these. Real cool customers and sociopaths will display very few or none. Pay attention and do your homework and you can spot many of them easily.

  • Furtiveness, nervousness or fidgety behavior. A guilty conscience and fear will lead to people engaging in wasted, extraneous movements.
  • Darting eyes, glancing or looking around. An attacker might do this to look for accomplices, witnesses, police or to preview potential routes of escape.
  • Rubbing of the hands, neck, scalp or face. This so called “grooming” behavior is especially prevalent in males who are psyching themselves up to engage in violence.
  • Major motions of the arms. People who make large, looping motions with their arms are often mentally rehearsing striking with them, and this serves as classic misdirection for the intended strike.
  • Excessive sweating. Fear and anxiety lead to sweating, sometimes copiously. If someone seems sweaty for no reason, keep one eye on them. Maybe it is just hyperhydrosis, but probably not.
  • Trembling. Similar to sweating above, the same primal emotions lead to a fine tremor. Less likely to be present with hardened criminals who are past their “first rodeo.”
  • Hidden hands. The eyes are the window to the soul but the eyes won’t kill you; the hands will. If anyone approaches you with a hidden hand, e.g. in a pocket, in a waistband, hidden inside or clutching a bag abnormally, or held behind their waist, you have trouble- they are likely holding a weapon ready for instant deployment.
  • Patting, shifting, adjusting movements. A hand that habitually makes a little “hop” to a location on the person’s body is most likely checking on a weapon as a security blanket movement to reassure the carrier it is still there. They may also be, in effect, practicing the draw.

Never Saw it Coming

No matter what the self-defense cultists tell you, there are always going to be times where your attention is on other things. For instance? How about the things you left your house to do!

From getting groceries to picking up dinner or going shopping or out for a movie, there will always be a span of time a crafty (or just expert) criminal could use to get the drop on you. Sometimes, they may not exhibit any of the signs or symptoms above to tip their hand; they are just cold blooded.

The real sickening part, though, is that a robbery may start with you actually being accosted. I mean wounded- shot, stabbed, beaten, slammed, choked.

Some robbers might be completely content to maim or kill you and then pick the goods off your broken body. I never hear those self-defense super studs chime in on this event, the stone cold ambush. The only platitude they offer is “if you are aware enough, that won’t happen!” Yeah, okay right, hot shot…

It is hard to contemplate such a thing if you are a normal and decent person, but this is in fact the kind of violence you must be prepared for! In the next section, we’ll show you some ways to negotiate yourself out of a robbery once it has begun.

Getting out of a Robbery in One Piece

So, it happens. Despite your best efforts you have a gun or knife in your face, clutched in the shaky hands of some drug-addled, wild-eyed scumbag. Okay, go-time. What do you do? The first thing to keep in mind is that the robbery is still an interaction where actions have consequences.

Duh, right?! Seriously, hear me out. Assuming the robber did not shoot you out of the gate or stick a shank in your back as the opening move, he is demanding you give something up in return for being unharmed.

Now, that does not mean he will honor that offer, or will not change his mind on a whim, but compliance may in fact save your life. Your things can be replaced. Your life cannot. More on that in a little bit.

The point is, you need to keep a cool head, keep your brain engaged, and rely on your training. Your life and limb will hang in the balance of a quick, accurate assessment and subsequently decisive implementation of your strategy.

For all the tactics and techniques in the world, good, bad and insane, there are only three workable strategies for extricating yourself unharmed from a robbery:

  • Fight – You fight to disable or permanently neutralize your attacker, precluding him from initiating or continuing violence against you.
  • Flee – You get away from your attacker, putting enough distance or obstacles between the two of you that he does not pursue you and cannot harm you.
  • Comply (or feign compliance) – It is possible that surrendering your valuables will see you get away unharmed and no worse for wear.

Alternately, you can feign compliance to create a distraction, or create an opening to go on the offensive or escape.

It is also entirely likely you will switch rapidly from one strategy to another. Sometimes you might even go back and forth if the opportunity for successful implementation presents itself.

You may feign compliance to buy yourself the opening you need to explode into action on your attacker, turning the tables. You may comply, throwing down your demanded watch or wallet and then booking it out of there when the bad guy is distracted.

You might fight from the get go, badly wounding and incapacitating your attacker, and thus gaining the time you need to escape safely.

We’ll go into each option in detail below to expand on the concepts above.

Fight

There is a common school of thought going around on dealing with robberies that says you should fight no matter what. That’s one way to deal with the situation.

But is also one way to get seriously wounded or killed if you don’t get the job done straight away. Keep in mind you will, in your average hold-up, be facing two or even three assailants.

Knife, gun or other, do you have the skills, the speed and the grit to face down multiple attackers and drive them off or incapacitate them before you yourself are grievously injured?

Also, don’t get suckered into resisting a robber straight away on principal just because you cannot see a weapon at the instance. He might have it hidden just out of view, or be relying on “lethal cover” from an accomplice you don’t know is there.

Do, of course, keep in mind that many of the people perpetrating these crimes are far better at issuing and taking violence than you are, having come from such “natural selection” environments as violent inner cities, impoverished rural areas, prison and broken homes with violent parents, siblings and relatives.

You could catch a vicious and effective beating for nothing more than passive resistance, to say nothing of what you’ll catch for properly fighting back if the wind blows against you.

You should though keep clearly delineated lines of what you will not court. I mean to say something that will result in immediate, explosive resistance on your behalf. What is it? Really.

Is it a robber-turned-kidnapper trying to stuff you in a van? Is it any kind of overt threat towards your spouse or child? Is it a potential rape or sexual assault? I am not judging your personal line in the sand, only advising that you know what it is prior to being faced with it.

When the time comes to fight, whatever the case, you have to fight like a madman. Maximum violence, maximum speed, maximum effect; nothing else will do.

If you have weapons, employ them if you can access them safely. One note about firearms: statistically you are most assured of having a positive outcome if you resist should you resist with a firearm. In this case “positive outcome” is defined as survival with minor injuries.

The asterisk at the end of that happy fact, though, is you must be able to employ your firearm safely to take advantage of it, and in the typical bad-breath encounter ranges of a robbery, it is an easy thing to get your draw stuffed and the gun taken from you if you mess up, assuming of course you are not shot or stabbed preemptively.

Flee

If you can get away clean from a robbery, you should. But contrary to the common wisdom of the ill-informed and chronic champions of meekness, you cannot always just “run away!” Let’s examine together the situation in totality and do so dispassionately.

You will begin your flight from a “cold start”- flat footed and likely facing opposite the direction you want to go. Your attacker is statistically going to be an armed, youngish male who is fitter than you are.

Do you presume to say you can turn and sprint away at a speed to both lose him and to escape harm? What if you are badly out of shape, old or otherwise infirm, such that your maximum ground speed is hopelessly inadequate? If you can, great. If not, you’ll need an opening.

That opening might be the attacker getting distracted, typically by some ill-gotten gains you throw down or drop on the ground immediately prior to booking it out of there. The same ploy might provide an opening to attack and incapacitate him with a decisive blow before doing the same.

Of the two, preplanned subterfuge might be the better play: if you make it a point to carry a so-called decoy wallet with a worthless fake ID in it, some old gift cards or “trial” credit cards without your name on it, and perhaps $30 in singles, you can throw it down in sacrifice after appearing to fold to the robber’s demands.

As soon as he diverts to take the bait, get the hell out of there. Hopefully he’ll be too preoccupied with his “haul” to pursue you.

Comply

As mentioned, contrary to most self-defense inclined types, compliance is a generally valid strategy in most kinds of robberies that are of the “social” variety, i.e. there are rules to be followed, expected interactions, expectations and outcomes to be had, and going along with them will, generally, see you get away with your skin and life.

You’ll usually implement compliance, or fake compliance, when you suffer the Stereotypically Sudden Robber Appearance: he came outta nowhere!

Facing a gun or shank at close range, you are what the old gunfighters would call “beaten to the drop,” and unless you are Jerry Miculek or Ed McGivern (and you aren’t) you’ll need time and opportunity to access you weapons and employ them without getting stabbed or lit up yourself.

This is where faking compliance comes in. A clever prepper could, feigning obedience to the robber’s demand for his wallet, move his trembling hand towards his “wallet” that is in actuality a gun or knife.

By getting ahead of the robber in your intent while playing into his demands, it is possible to surprise them utterly and make good your escape.

Now, real compliance might see you survive unscathed or be unceremoniously dispatched by the robber. You cannot ever, ever assume you and he have anything close to value systems the other would recognize.

He might decide to injure or kill you for any number of reasons, including no reason except to do it. He might do it to remove a potential witness, to prove his viciousness and badassery or to intimidate someone.

Genuine compliance is a roll of the dice, though it is an option that can and has succeeded in keeping people alive before. You’ll need to make as accurate and as fast a decision as you can regarding the attacker’s motivations at the instance.

Your Robbery Survival Cheat Sheet

The following summary will help you keep in mind the most important concepts for keep you from becoming a robbery victim and help you survive if you do:

  • Be mindful of areas robbers target: ATMs, parking lots, affluent commercial areas, seedy parts of town
  • Don’t look like food: the weak, slow, oblivious and uncertain are a robber’s chief targets. Be confident, walk with purpose and remain aware of who and what is going on around you.
  • Have a plan for dealing with personal space violators: they might be innocent, or they might not be. Never take chances with anyone who does not have explicit cover for being in your space.
  • Look out for Pre-Attack Indicators: furtive movement, nervous glances and hidden hands or constant fidgeting is a major warning sign.
  • Stay Aware: work to minimize gaps in your awareness and perception that robbers can use to jump you.
  • Have a plan for extricating yourself from a robber: You can fight, you can run or you can comply.

Conclusion

It is entirely possible to survive a robbery and do so with valuables and life intact, but you must keep a cool head, quickly and correctly diagnose the situation and then apply the appropriate strategy.

Compliance, fleeing and fighting your way clear are all valid options, but all have associated risks depending on the situation.

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About Tom Marlowe

Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.
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