Is He Carrying a Gun?: More on Spotting an Armed Suspect

In September, I wrote about spotting someone who may be carrying a concealed firearm. To date, it is one of the most popular blog entries I have written.

As a follow up, I thought all of you may be interested in an article that I had sent to me by a California police officer. The article, Dead Right: Recognizing Traits of Armed Individuals, is out of the March 2006 edition of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.

The authors conducted three studies over a period of 15 years, and they found certain common characteristics in people that are illegally carrying firearms. In the article, the authors break down what police officers should look for into two general categories: concealment characteristics and behavioral traits.

Concealment characteristics are the things used by suspects to hide the firearm or other weapon. For example, an un-tucked shirt or sports jacket are examples of concealment characteristics. These characteristics may not be obvious. In modern society, casual dress with un-tucked shirts is quite common. Even though an un-tucked shirt may hide a firearm, in and of itself, it is not a good indicator.

An officer must judge the concealment characteristics in the context of the environment they are in. With clothing, an officer can simply ask “Does what I see match the surroundings?” For example, a person wearing a jeans jacket in August in Florida should raise your suspicions a lot more than the person next to him in shorts and an un-tucked t-shirt. Likewise, a person walking down a Chicago street in January with his coat unbuttoned should catch your attention also. After all, if he was wearing the coat for warmth, wouldn’t he button it up? Is he leaving it unbuttoned for fast access to a gun?

Bumps, bulges, weighted pockets, gym bags, paper sacks, and unusual clothing are all examples of concealment characteristics.

Behavioral traits, on the other hand, are those actions performed by the suspect which are clues that he is armed. Things like:

  • frequently touching the firearm for reassurance,
  • adjusting the weapon for comfort, or because it has moved out of place,
  • an unusual walk or gait, and
  • blading their weapon side away from you, similar to the “interview stance.”

The authors discovered that none of the offenders they interviewed, in 15 years of research, ever used a holster to carry their firearms. This means that a lot of the behavioral traits will be more obvious if you are looking for them. Think about it: if you are not carrying your gun in a holster, and it is moving around as you walk, aren’t you going to constantly be touching it to 1) make sure it doesn’t move too far out of place, and 2) you didn’t drop it?

In the article, the authors also go into safe ways of stopping armed suspects.

The article is well worth reading, and the download is free.

Stay safe!

Richard is a police officer with a medium sized, central Florida department, and previously worked for a Metro-Atlanta agency.  He has served as a field training officer, court officer, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, watch commander, commander of a field training and evaluation program, and general pain in the butt to management-types looking to cut training hours.

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Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing on sites like Human Events, The Firearm Blog and Police & Security News.

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