June 29, 2020
By John M. Peterson III
No toolbox for defeating carjackers is complete without two elements: evasive driving techniques and firearms capability. Firstly, I would recommend getting to a top-name, one to five day driving course that teaches the skills needed, such as ramming, that can mean life or death in certain situations. When the show starts, whether stationary or moving, fighting with your car gives you a powerful weapon: it can ram and push other vehicles, weighs more than the heaviest bullet, provides some protection, is more powerful than any group of assailants, and doesn’t need to be reloaded. Don’t be afraid of using the car as an escape tool, even if you have to use it to drive on sidewalks, across a field or over your attackers to get away.
Secondly, carrying, and knowing how to properly employ a handgun can make all of the difference in thwarting a carjacking. Many innocent people could have saved themselves if they had been armed. If someone comes up to your car and pulls on the door handle, that’s ‘code’ for ‘I want to victimize you and your family.’ Don’t let them.
If prevention doesn’t work out, then it’s time to switch to your Carjack Survival Options:
1. FIGHT WITH THE CAR: If your vehicle is running, especially if it’s moving, use it to escape. This includes hitting an armed attacker who is standing in the path of your escape. Deadly force laws do not specify WHAT you may use for lawful self-defense, only WHY. Don’t be afraid to use the vehicle as a weapon in itself, so long as it is justified. This has time and again been proven to spoil their plans.
If vehicle is running and not moving, such as if it’s parked or blocked in (and you don’t know how to use ramming techniques or that would not be appropriate), then use the vehicle to escape only if you would not endanger yourself. Otherwise, consider the next option.
2. ABANDON SHIP – GIVE UP THE CAR: If the vehicle is not running, and you are not armed, immediately exit the vehicle and attempt to escape. Especially if unarmed, get as far away from the car as possible. Consider if it’s only the car they want, by physically separating yourself from it you might increase your chances of survival. In some cases it is better to buy time and get away from the vehicle, while determining the nature of the threat (carjacking/property crime vs. attack/kidnap/people crime). Force your attacker(s) to react to you. Get off the ‘X’. Move to cover.
About giving up the car. Too many people become overly attached to their personal property, to include their cars. In most cases, especially if you are not armed, are surrounded or trapped, and the car is not operable, the best defense is to give up the car and run. Talk your way out of it. But, no matter what, DO NOT GO WITH THE CARJACKER. Get out of the car and stay out of the car. During our test scenarios, we found the eject/run option was best. Live to fight another day!
3. FIGHT – GO TO GUNS: We know that in many cases, the carjacker may also be planning on doing more than just taking the car. Most of those plans justify use of force in self-defense. But, keep in mind that many carjackings involve a weapon (most of them firearms), multiple offenders, and folks who have done this before and are maybe even good at it. You may also have been caught by surprise.
You may need to focus firstly on getting out of the car, and not immediately drawing. Movement, cover, and tactical positioning are three tactical options that will greatly increase your chances of survival. You can’t do that from being seated inside of a car. Especially if they are already pointing a weapon at you.
Consider, if the car is not working or cannot be suitably used as a weapon in itself, to ram, or to drive out of the situation with, then it may quickly become a ‘bullet magnet’ if you draw from inside and start trying to shoot at them, who can move, while you are stationary. It can be like ‘shooting fish in a barrel’. Bottom line: being in non-working / non-drivable car is the worst place to be when the shooting starts.
But, despite your best efforts, or if you let your guard down at just the wrong time, it could go to guns to defend yourself. If that happens, you have 4 options, some of which combine the above ‘abandon ship’ option:
A. DRAW AND ENGAGE FROM INSIDE: Do this only long enough to be able to extract yourself from the vehicle. Or, in some cases you might finish the fight by driving off. But in most cases, fight your way out of the car, and fast.
B. EXIT, DRAW AND TAKE COVER AT THE VEHICLE: Get to the thickest part of the vehicle possible while staying low and away from the glass. (note: In Part 3 of this series, we’ll cover specific techniques for vehicle cover usage and all manner of fighting around a vehicle) You might draw and shoot from inside, or draw once outside of the vehicle. Whatever happens, do not stay at the vehicle for very long. It is not good cover, and they are most likely very close to you anyways.
C: EXIT, DRAW AND IMMEDIATELY ENGAGE WHILE MOVING CONTINUOUSLY.
D: EXIT AND RUN TO COVER: Whether or not you use a firearm in this instance, the very fact that you are moving (making yourself a more difficult and confusing target), and the possibility that the vehicle itself may be the attacker's only ‘objective’, could quite possibly afford you a better chance of survival. You are moving away from what the attacker really wants.
Most ambushes and attacks are reliant on positioning of the vehicle/target. If you deny the opponent the ability to execute their plan (based on location, you being on the ‘X’), you very well may change the tide of events. They can’t ‘shoot fish in a barrel’ if you are not in the barrel. Further, distance is the friend of the more skilled gunfighter, it can make engagement of multiple assailants more effective, and it allows for more potential and effective types of cover. You may also want to delay drawing either to decide what the actual threat level is, as it buys you more time for threat identification, PLUS it allows you to ‘play that card’ as to whether or not you have a firearm.
So, if this is your option, then literally, spot a piece of cover from inside of the vehicle and sprint for it. During our scenarios, this option was the single-most effective one of all when it came to guns.
Concealed Carry Hardware
Some concealed carry rigs are better than others when having to draw from inside of the vehicle. The safety belt, especially in combination with bucket seats, can make ‘inert’, or temporarily ‘trap’, most belt-worn holsters. Add to that a concealed carry garment, and drawing from the belt becomes noticeably slower than normal, while telegraphing what you are doing. Pocket rigs in the pants are also slow, if not impossible (and maybe even dangerous) to be drawing from in a vehicle seat. These points also give you more reason to consider Options B, C, and D above.
There are some better concealed carry methods that are applicable for a more rapid and safe draw as well as maybe more comfortable carry from within a vehicle. Consider any of these:
- Fanny pack: author’s personal favorite.
- Belly band: works well even with some seat belt configurations.
- Shoulder rigs
- Appendix Inside-The-Waistband (IWB)
- Cross draw: especially good for right handed shooters in left-hand-drive vehicles.
- Laptop case or purse: recommended position is either between the seats, with strap tied around something such as the console, OR between the driver’s left leg and the door.
All of these concealed carry rigs can be utilized with the seatbelt on. But, all should be practiced with an empty, cleared handgun in a safe location. While doing this, you will see that there is a lot more to this, such as that it’s a stationary shooting position, portions of the vehicle will obscure your vision, you will most likely be shooting through glass, and the shooting positions and angles will not be anything like what you encounter on the range.
Part 3 of this series will include firearms techniques and use of cover at the vehicle. Here we’ll talk about penetration, glass, spalling and everything that happens when gunfighting from in and around the car. This will illustrate the importance of getting out of the car and not hanging around it for long. There’s a lot more info on the way so stay tuned and “stay alert – stay alive!”
John Peterson is a US Army Special Forces combat vet with experience as an antiterrorism/driving instructor, executive protection specialist, surveillance specialist, intelligence instructor and as a full time firearms & tactics instructor for the Smith & Wesson Academy, SigSauer Academy and Federal government.