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If you’re a woman who carries a gun for self-defense, you’ve probably heard of Jeff Cooper’s Color Code, which goes from “Condition White,” to “Condition Yellow,” to “Condition Orange,” then finally “Condition Red” (which is actually the condition that’s being depicted in the above photo). If you haven’t, here’s what it means in a nutshell: 

  • Condition White…We are unaware and unprepared
  • Condition Yellow…We are in a state of relaxed alertness
  • Condition Orange…We observe a potential threat
  • Condition Red…The threat is real

What should be happening when you’ve hit Condition Orange is that you’ve identified a potential threat and are actively looking for ways to avoid it while also mentally getting ready to draw your firearm. You’re not actually drawing it, since at this point you’re not sure that you’re dealing with a threat…but between the mounting objective evidence and your gut feeling, you know something is wrong. You have become aware of your gun in a way you weren’t a few minutes ago.

The problem when it comes to armed women who carry concealed is that, as women, we’ve been socialized from birth to dismiss and minimize the cues that should have led us to Condition Orange, and to ignore our gut feelings. In that spirit, here are three times when you should start transitioning to Condition Orange, even if you’re worried about seeming rude or hysterical. You’ll note that none of the three involve any overt threats, but you should be concerned anyway. Why? Because although each of these things has a number of potentially innocent explanations, they’re also the hallmarks of a potential aggressor who is in the process of “interviewing” you to see if you’ll be easy prey. (You’ll also note that we use “guy” for the purpose of simplicity…the offender in question can of course be of either gender.)

1. The Guy Who’s Way Too Familiar (For a Stranger)

You don’t know this guy, but nobody would know it to listen to him. He’s talking to you as if you were old pals, or co-conspirators. He uses the word “we” a lot as if you had already agreed to be part of a pair with him in it. The reason you should be alert to that is that the technique, sometimes called “forced teaming” or “assuming the sale,” tends to psychologically condition someone to be less resistant to whatever’s being proposed. He either makes an unsolicited offer to help you with something, or (more insidiously), requests your help with something. The reason why that’s insidious is that there’s a pretty well-known technique to soften a person’s resistance. It’s called the “foot in the door” technique, and the idea is that you ask a small, easily granted favor from someone. Once they agree to that, they’re considerably more likely to accede to larger and larger favors.

Another verbal cue that should raise red flags for you is the unsolicited promise. As part of his patter, The Guy makes a statement such as, “Don’t worry, I’m a gentleman,” or “I promise we’ll be much safer in my car.” The problem here is that, unless you asked a specific question to elicit that statement, you didn’t seek out this promise from him, so why would he say it? All too frequently, the unsolicited promise is a promise indeed…to do exactly what The Guy said he wouldn’t do. 

2. The Guy Who’s Crowding You (For No Particular Reason)

You aren’t on an elevator, squeezing down an airplane aisle or trying to grab a strap on the subway, all of which are times when we accept that other people have no choice but to be inside our personal space (and us in theirs). But The Guy is in your personal space anyway, and he doesn’t seem the least bit eager to get out of it. Although of course everyone has a different comfort level, in general the American rule about personal space is just a little past arm’s reach. Other cultures may require more or less, but one factor that crosses cultures is that we can usually tell when we’re making others uncomfortable and we usually do our best to avoid it. Chances are that long before you consciously noticed The Guy is a little too close to you, you were already unconsciously giving off signals that you weren’t comfortable…and The Guy ignored those signals. That, right there, should raise more red flags than a Beijing parade.

3. The Guy Who’s Ignoring Your “No” (For Any Reason)

A few paragraphs ago, when we were talking about the “foot in the door” technique, we didn’t talk about how to respond to those small requests…which is, by and large, going to be a flat, unadorned “no.” If The Guy ignores your “no” by either rephrasing the question and asking it again, making unsolicited promises about how it’ll be OK if you do this thing, or making an emotional appeal designed to elicit your pity? That’s not really a negotiation. That’s a test. What you want, more than anything else right now, is to fail that test. The Guy wants to know what you’ll do when someone stomps over your boundaries, because that’s a good clue for him about whether you’re going to be a good victim. So what should you do? You should refuse