Intermediate Force and Conflict Avoidance

Look around the gun sphere next time you are out and about on the internet. When you watch all the cool videos of various drills and training evolutions, does anything strike you as strange?

two men in a street fight

When discussing a “what would you do?” scenario with friends or colleagues, does it seem like anything is a foregone conclusion? Are there tactics and techniques are getting left out of regular practice of potentially life-saving skills?

I think so, and those techniques are that of avoidance and use of intermediate force options. Put another way, your average citizen, even a switched-on, highly trained and gun-savvy citizen will always train or practice in such a way that a conflict with a threat or potential threat ends up with someone getting shot. Every. Single. Time.

Considering that the huge majority of fights and conflicts will and should end the opposite way, no shots fired even if force is required, this is a glaring methodology flaw you should seriously correct.

In today’s article, I’ll be serving up some information that I hope you will consider so you can have more defensive options than “pray” and “go to guns.” So keep that thing holstered and let’s get started.

Attitude Adjustment

Something must be addressed up front to put this article into context. Assuming that you are a civilian whose job description is something other than “collar criminals and haul them to jail” or “kill enemy fighters” you should be doing everything in your power to avoid trouble, not start it, and not even get sucked into it. Any and all opportunities to avoid, escape or withdraw from a confrontation should be taken.

I am sure a few of you reading probably bristled at that. You aren’t some weak-kneed coward. You aren’t going to let some scumbag push you around. “These colors don’t run!” etc., etc. I get it, I really do. But that is all ego talking. You aren’t thinking objectively. Really, you aren’t thinking about your objective at all.

As a civilian, your only objective should be to survive. You have people counting on you, your friends, family and fellow preppers in your survival network.

The acme of survival when it comes to fighting is not to fight at all, if possible, and if you do to get away with the least amount of damage- physical, financial and social- possible. No, it isn’t cool-guy or McBadass to talk about in those terms.

Many of us, even most of us, deep down want to be the fixed point against evil, against the darkness nibbling away at good and decent society. That is commendable and understandable. But real life is not a fairy tale, and you aren’t the knight errant on the snow white horse.


Consider for a moment if you will the stakes at play when a civilian resorts to lethal force in self-defense. Assuming you live, no matter the outcome, not matter how blindingly obvious the circumstances, if you shoot someone you will, with near 100% certainty, have to go to court and account for your actions.

This trial will drag on and on and on and on, as they do, and the entire time you are accruing attorney fees. Win, lose or draw you can expect to spend anywhere from $80k to $100k on legal fees.

If you win, the financial and social consequences will be ghastly. You can expect to lose your job, and be ostracized by a significant portion of your now former friends and associates. Church, activity groups and other former circles will treat you very differently or shun you all together.

This “Mark of Cain” syndrome is very real. Between loss of income, damage to your network and the very real possibility of job loss and stalled growth, you will likely be facing a serious financial crunch.

Understand this now: most people will not share your values when it comes to the taking of another human life, even in extremis, even when justified, even when it is them or you.

Justice as it is rendered today in the United States turns people into gristle on the far side whether you win or lose, unless you are extraordinarily wealthy or powerful. All told the impact on your life will be terrible.

But so it is, right? “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six!” so says a bunch of bumper stickers and morons, frankly, who have never been judged by twelve. I can solemnly assure that those who have would never utter such a thing.

Those who have, and lost, probably wish they would have been carried by six instead, condemned to languish in prison among the worst dregs of humanity, their family, friends and lives rolling by without them on the outside. An indescribably terrible fate for any good guy or good gal.

Decisions and Options

The old cliché, “if all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail” is very applicable to your average concealed carrying prepper. For so many, the gun is the alpha and omega of defensive options.

Assuming they get stuck in and cannot escape, most who carry can do nothing more than draw and get busy. It does not have to be this way, and furthermore should not be this way.

There is a terrible need to have more options available to you than swearing or a gun. Some of these options are additional equipment, others are additional skills or simply tactics and procedural changes.

If you are approached while pumping gas by some shabby and erratic individual threatening to “kick your ass” and you believe that can surely do it if they try, are you justified in shooting them, even if they are much bigger and stronger?

Maybe, but then you are going to really be rolling the dice on the backside of the encounter when it is time for you to roll into court and explain how you shot an unarmed man who just so happened to have some mental issues.

What else could you have done?! Well, plenty, if you know what to do and are trained accordingly. If you had your head up and out of your phone or down out of the clouds you could have seen this guy coming and preempted him one way or the other.

Maybe you could have hopped in your car in time and gotten away. Perhaps moving into the store would be an okay idea. You could have moved from between the pump and your vehicle to open up more space, giving yourself some room to maneuver.

You might have firmly told the guy to stay back and not come any closer. You might have been able to stand him off and talk him down or redirect him. If you had reasonable fear that he was about to strike you pepper spray would be an excellent and far less messy option than a firearm.

All of these options might have worked, or they might have not. But based on the threat in that example, gunfire would be a very dicey option legally. That’s the point: you are not setting yourself up for success in all phases of the encounter if your go-to resolution is lethal force.

Like it or not, judges and juries prefer it when you don’t shoot anyone, never mind the fact they attacked you.

You also are not exempt from this during a crisis or major disaster. When the lights come back on you will in all probability have to account for the choice you had to make in a split second. Do not forget for a moment that a jury will dissect and judge that decision at their leisure.

Therefore it is in your best interest to make sure you are suitably “armed” with tools and training besides firearms and related skills to overcome the threats that don’t mandate such a response.

Plan A, Plan B and Plan C

Is a there a Plan D you might be asking? Yes, yes there is. Plan D is the Gun (or lethal force). We don’t want to use Plan D unless we have no other option.

Any smart citizen who wants to be ready for the threats they are most likely to encounter in today’s world had better have their Plans A, B and C selected, prepared and practiced. What are these plans for?

The following plans are really just options that you might choose to employ in order to stop or evade an imminent attack against you.

The plans are arranged in ascending order of preference and ascending levels of force and interaction with the person threatening you. Plans A and B require no force at all, while the other two do, Plan C being intermediate force and Plan D being, again, lethal force.

Plan A is pure avoidance. If you are paying enough attention, notice pre-attack indicators and plain listen to your instincts you can avoid an awful lot of trouble.

Done properly, your would-be attacker will be left flummoxed and looking for a new victim while they watch your taillights fade into the distance or see you disappear around a corner or into a crowd.

Avoidance relies on you actively paying attention, seeing, noticing, hearing and sifting all of the incoming data through your training, experience and intuition. Plan is always preemptive; it will not work when the fight is actually on. That would be Escape.

Plan B is de-escalation. Call it verbal judo, the Jedi mind-trick, or whatever you want. It is the use of verbal skills, body posture and preemption to defuse a conflict before it even begins, or possibly takes the wind out of an attackers sails assuming they are not just out for mayhem.

These skills require practice, rehearsal and a willingness to break certain social customs for what is considered normal.

Plan C is intermediate force. Fists, feet, grappling, kubotans, tactical pens, pepper spray and other rarely-lethal implements fit here. The correct answer to someone threatening fisticuffs against you sans a lethal weapon or tremendous disparity of force is not a gun or knife.

It is a punch to the head, kick to the groin, dose of spicy spray or similar solution that will definitely have an effect on them but is unlikely to leave major lasting harm. Reflect for a moment how much more likely you are to get into a fist fight than a proper lethal force engagement. Plan C is the answer to avoiding a tussle or boxing match.

Plan D, lethal force is our first choice only when we are presented with a present, imminent lethal threat. Never any other time. Learning to make a quick and correct judgment call is a skill in and of itself.

While you cannot anticipate every conceivable threat and sometimes your number just comes up, avoiding the use of Plan D is your number one priority.

We’ll go over each of these in detail in the next section.


You should always be alert to the possibility of being targeted by a criminal. As a rule, barring the psychotic or someone who has a violent grudge against you in particular, criminals will look for easy prey.

What does easy prey look like? Isolated, alone, distracted, and not particularly threatening. Prey in a transitory space, e.g. getting in or out of a car or elevator, entering or leaving a building, etc. is also significantly more vulnerable since they are preoccupied and generally fixed while transitioning.

By far, the best way to elevate your rankings on a criminal’s targeting list is to be glued to your phone, staring into space or otherwise not paying attention to your surroundings. Get out of Condition White! While you don’t need to live in a revved up Condition Orange all the time, you should (and are more than capable) or being in an alert, relaxed Condition Yellow.

In Yellow, you are aware of who is around you, what they are doing and where your avenues of approach and exits are to the space you are in.

By remaining in Condition Yellow at all times, you should not be surprised when some shifty type starts bee lining for you from across the parking lot. You will not have to question why he is hanging out where there are no cars, because you already took notice of him and sized him up.

Avoidance is largely predicated on the following: if it looks wrong and feels wrong, get out of there. Don’t rationalize, don’t question. Act. I was shopping in a well-known chain of pharmacy corner stores while I lived for a time in South Carolina.

This was late at night, I was tired and finally making my way home after a long four day job. I trotted into the store and began shopping only to see in one of the large, domed security mirrors on the ceiling a group of 5 or 6 black youths enter the store.

What struck me was their behavior. Entirely too quiet for kids in a college town. They were also all looking around, including up. Bad sign: checking for cameras? I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.

I ditched by basket and walked out immediately as they started to meander through the store. Nothing happened to me, but I found out the very next day that the store was robbed along with several patrons.

You don’t need to make a big show of things. If you think you need to leave, do it. If you have family who are out with you, and might be justifiably upset by this, make sure you discuss ahead of time your reasoning for it.

I recommend developing an innocuous code phrase for use with your family that you can use discreetly wherever you might be. This way your partner will know what the plan is and can help you hustle kids along without upsetting them, if you have any.

Sure, it might be embarrassing if you are wrong, but it is better to be alive and cancel dinner plans than risk an altercation.


If you are being approached by someone you don’t know, the last thing you should do is let them get right up in your space unchallenged. Once someone is in contact or near contact distance to you, you are in serious danger if they decide to attack you.

Unless your abilities are near superhuman, or they are record-breakingly slow, you will not be able to react in time to prevent their action.

The solution is to challenge them and ask them to keep away from you. This also serves as an additional early warning for you based on the threat’s reaction to your request. This no doubt sounds unpalatable to people who are High-B agreeable people pleasers.

That’s understandable as our manners, customs and social norms generally allow for a cluttered “social space” in public places. That’s fine, but I do not let anyone approach me directly if they do not have a reason to be there.

Use the example near the beginning of this article; you are being approached by a ragged and agitated person while you pump gas into your vehicle. They call you out and start in on a sob story about how they were done wrong, need gas money, bus fare, blah, blah, blah.

All fast talk to keep you fixed while they close in. Maybe they have already decided what they are going to do to you or maybe this is an “interview” to help them determine if you are someone they can rip-off or just roll.

When you give these people an ear you give them permission. Don’t do it! My preferred verbiage in any such situation, no matter who is approaching me and where, is a strong “I can’t help you,” paired with strong eye contact. If they need directions, “I can’t help you.”

If they need money, “I can’t help you.” If they have some problem and if you would, just, like, PUH-LEEZE mister, “I can’t help you.” Mister, you have the time? Do you have a light? What’s your favorite color? Do you like dancing? “I can’t help you.”

Now pay attention to what happens next. If they stop and keep pleading their case, they might be “legitimately” in need or they might be buying time while their associates move in on you.

Keep an eye on your surroundings, but if you want to hear them out, you can do so while they are at a distance. But watch, most will suddenly decide you are not worth the time all of a sudden…

If I am approached at night, I always make it a point to spotlight them with my flashlight that I ALWAYS carry. While it is not nice, and may be “rude” to shine a high-intensity light in someone’s eyes, it is certainly an attention getter.

For someone genuinely in need, they may be perturbed but that is okay. (Before you ask, “Charles, do you like handheld or weapon-mounted better for use with a gun?” the answer, reader is both, though that is a story for another time. This example illustrates why you have to have a handheld at any rate, however.)

A Quick Word on Ethics

Now, before you jump into my craw about heartlessness or overreacting or being what’s wrong in the world, save it? I am charitable. I do care. And I do try to help; I just do it on my terms.

I am not comfortable with people I don’t know approaching me in public. Call me cynical, call me jaded. Maybe I have just seen what happens when these things aren’t what they appear to be.

Now, if you are that ate up with appearing cold and uncaring with people you don’t know and aren’t related to (not my people, not my problem) you can try a different approach.

In the same situation exampled above, you can stop them when they start their spiel with a “Hey, sir/ma’am, I would like to help you, but please don’t come any closer. I just got out of the hospital/have PTSD/ am claustrophobic/contagious and just need some space, okay?” and then go from there.

No matter which method you employ, if someone keeps trying to close in then you might very well have a problem. Don’t let them. Rebuke them firmly, start gaining space if you can and prepare to fight.

In any other situation, just appearing as someone who is alert, aware and not willing to be plied with BS will see a potential attacker decide there are easier marks elsewhere and depart. If they don’t the game may be afoot, and issuing them a request to stop will let you know everything you need to know.

Intermediate Force

Consider the types of situations you might find yourself in that could require and indeed mandate defensive force on your behalf, just not defensive lethal force. A potential fist fight is almost always one. Being confronted and harassed by a group of punks is certainly one.

How about a person acting irrationally, acting crazy. The mentally ill are unpredictable. If you feel threatened by someone acting out of sorts and you cannot get away from them, is the correct answer to just shoot them? Probably not, though you could certainly be justified in using some force.

Look at it another way: you are far, far more likely to encounter or become embroiled in a situation that requires the use of non-lethal force than lethal force.

If you need to put hands on someone, or punch them, slam them or grapple with them don’t you want to be proficient at throwing hands and feet? If someone needs a tune-up, but you definitely don’t want to tangle with them, wouldn’t pepper spray be the ideal and “family friendly” solution? Of course it is!

These other force options are properly called intermediate force since the risk of injury is very real but they are not, as a general rule, lethal force.

While you cannot run around socking people, kicking them, or dousing them with mace and get away willy-nilly by pleading that you were afraid, the consequences for using these options (especially pepper spray) are far less serious most times than touching off powder in a gun or giving someone the straight silver with a knife.

The single, best thing your average concealed carrier can do is learn to use and carry a can of high quality pepper spray. I know, it is one more thing for you to carry, but you should make room for it.

I will not go into detail here on use and deployment since I and other authors have already done so here on Survival Sullivan and elsewhere, but you should check those articles out.

Anyway, pepper spray is ounce for ounce the most effective, ranged intermediate force option available to civilians. Forget tasers, and get you some pepper spray.

Hand-to-Hand skills are another must. If you know how to shoot but don’t know how to fistfight, your priorities are lopsided. Aside from dealing with a quarrelsome asshole who just wants to fight, hand-to-hand skills are essential when the stakes are even higher.

Too many citizens assume they will be able to draw their pistol unimpeded and just smoke a bad guy standing stock straight and square in front of them with nary a hassle, when in reality there exists a significant chance the attacker will already be upon you before you detect and react to his presence.

Attempting to draw in that situation without first making space to do so safely is fraught with peril. Having some hand to hand skills will be just as crucial then as when dealing with someone who’s aggressive and has been drinking a lot, you cannot justify shooting.

Putting it all Together

It is easy to think of your force options as different keys to different locks and by choosing the right key for the right lock you defuse the situation, make your escape and no one gets seriously hurt. Guns stay cold, and knives stay in their sheaths. But these sorts of things are rarely so clean and tidy.

You might stand a guy off with a verbal challenge only to see him weasel in close enough to try and blast in to grab you.

You were smart and pre-palmed your pepper spray to give him a good rinsing before he launched, but now he is crashing into you and you both go down on the asphalt, with yourself catching a good bit of backwash off the now spicy scumbag.

Now, your hand to hand and grappling skills are really going to be put to a severe test: the gun, if you carry one, is in play. It may very well pop out of its holster or be discovered by your assailant while you both struggle for advantage.

Luckily, that does not happen that way: the pepper spray is catching up to him and he is beginning to sputter.

The pain and distraction allows you to gain advantage and subdue him, but all the fight has left him thanks to the face full of hot stuff. Speaking of that you are starting to fry yourself, but you have enough composure to leave him where he sits, withdrawing to call the police.

Again, this is not a rock-paper-scissors exercise. That is why flowing from one to the next and even integrating them when appropriate is so important.

The “Timmy” Question

I have heard from several people who should know better the question pop up about the image, I guess, or ethics, of civilians carrying so much gear that they are loaded nearly for par as a modern cop might be, or taking training in skills like verbal judo and so forth.

While I have never heard the people voicing this question provide a satisfactory answer as to why the idea of well-equipped and well-trained civilians going about their day discreetly prepared for any plausible threat perturbs them so.

As best I can gather, it seems to have something to do with civilians being “tactical” or “playing at being cops” or some such nonsense. Often civilians who are overtly dressed and armed for self-defense in a flagrantly “tactical” way are derisively referred to by shooter-types as “Tactical Timmies”, or Timmy for short.

You don’t want to be called a Timmy, and plenty of folks wonder if they are going too Timmy when they start piling in gear, even good useful gear: Okay, pistol, spare mag, flashlight, knife, pepper spray, first-aid kit, wallet, watch, lighter, phone, keys. Alright! Who’s ready for tacos?!

I think this is frankly ridiculous unless a person is patently going around imitating cops in appearance, demeanor and activity, but there it is.

Maybe they are projecting, or maybe they are having an emotional reaction over the fact that citizens should be well-trained and well-equipped to call themselves “ready” and be worth a damn when things do invariably break bad.

Sure, I guess somewhere, once, it was enough for an average citizen to tuck a revolver in their belt and mosey on their daily business with no training and not much plan. Well, those days are over. The stakes are high enough if you are attacked, but today you must deal with the inevitable legal fracas that will inevitably follow.

If you really believe that you’ll be judged by a jury of your “peers” you are dreaming. Many unscrupulous prosecutors will love nothing more than to see you locked up. The family and estate of the deceased dirtbag will scream and cry and bawl and sue the daylights out of you for every red cent even after the criminal trial is over.

This stuff is serious. You will not be hailed as a hero. You will not get off scot-free, except in the most vanishingly rare circumstances.

The bottom line is this: even in defense of your life, your actions had better be correct, justifiable and palatable to a jury and judge.

Otherwise, you might see yourself locked up and penniless. Having the right tools and training to employ force aside from lethal force is non-negotiable in today’s cultural and political environment.

If you say you are a prepper, and you are ready for anything, but your self-defense skillset is lacking in all or some of the above, you really aren’t ready, and saying you are or putting on a devil-may-care attitude and saying you’ll just shoot them won’t save you.

The true adherent honors the path with deeds, not words.


Defensive encounters can and should be resolved with something other than lethal force if feasible. Relying solely on a lethal weapon for self-defense may actually make some situations worse.

It is up to you to develop robust and well-rounded avoidance and intermediate force options to ensure you are capable of successfully negotiating a defensive encounter with a minimum of harm and legal repercussions.

conflict avoidance pinterest image

4 thoughts on “Intermediate Force and Conflict Avoidance”

  1. I found this article to be extremely helpful, factful, even eye opening. It puts the “situation” in the complete light when opting for a resolution to act with force.

  2. tuesdayissoylentgreenday

    Good article, BUT what about the above 55 crowd? That age would be behind the curve on going to fist with a 20 or 30 year old.

    1. An old saying that regretfully applies to 68 years old me is “Never terrify an old man. He can’t run and
      he can’t fight, so he has no choice but to shoot you.

  3. Pepper spray is going to be added to my list and carried instead of an extra revolver. I too tell people to not approach and I don’t answer my door unless I look out my living room window first. Seniors need to take more precautions and as a whole we are far too too trusting.

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