What to do if someone pulls a gun on you … It’s an unlikely scenario, but being able to understand and diffuse the situation could save your life.

The obvious answer, of course, is: “Whatever the sunuvabitch tells you to do.” That’s mostly true, but there’s more to the story.

Understand that the odds are in your favor. If the assailant’s only aim is to kill you, you wouldn’t be alive long enough to assess the situation. They’d simply shoot you and move on. Which means they’re likely after something else: money, your car, a late-night thrill.

What to Do If Someone Pulls a Gun on You

With a gun in your face, you’re not going to remember most of these tips. But, if you remember just one thing …

Stay Calm

With a gun pointed at you, it’s easier said than done. But, if you take anything away from this, we can’t overstate the importance of keeping calm. Everything that follows relies on you keeping your cool as best as possible. If the only thing your brain can muster is “OHMYGODI’MGONNADIE!” you’ll be incapable of rational thought.

Maintaining a level head allows you to assess the situation more rationally and logically. This alone will give you an advantage over your attacker. While they might physically be in control, they’ve already relinquished some psychological hold over the situation. Lead them by example: calmness begets calmness. If you don’t panic, it’s less likely they’ll panic.

Make and Maintain Eye Contact With Your Assailant

Again, if your assailant’s only intent was to kill you, you’d probably already be dead. So, you can assume they have a shred of humanity. Use this to your advantage by making and maintaining eye contact with them as much as possible. Show them you’re a living, breathing human being.

Think about the idea of setting a mouse trap in your attic. It’s something many of us could do without hesitation because we’re not looking into the eyes of the creature we’re about to kill. But — unless you’re a sociopath — staring that same mouse in the face while you break its neck would at least introduce some degree of hesitation.

At the very least, eye contact should make your assailant uncomfortable with the possibility of killing you. If you can get them to reconsider their future actions and the situation they’ve put themselves in, you’re more likely to survive.

Gun Ammunition (closeup)

Know Your Assailant

Every situation where you’ll need to know what to do if someone pulls a gun on you is different. The three most common would be robbery, a hostage-taking, or a kidnapping. They all require similar, but varied responses so it pays to know your assailant’s motives.

In all of the above scenarios, the point is not to kill you. If it were, you’d already be dead. Logically, every second that passes in such a situation is another second in your favor. It gives the shooter more time to reconsider what they’re doing and realize it’s not in their best interest to shoot you.

Let’s consider the differences in each scenario …

Robbery With a Gun Pointed at You

Armed robbery is the least complicated of the three scenarios. Your assailant is armed as an insurance policy to strong-arm you into giving them something of value. Whatever that thing is — your wallet, money roll, or purse — give it to them. Once they’ve gotten what they came for, they have no reason to stick around and less of a reason to kill you.

Throughout the interaction, it’s important to clearly telegraph your actions and intentions to your assailant. Calmly tell them, “I’m reaching for my wallet in my back pocket.” Do so at quarter-speed, then hand it to them slowly.

Study them as best you can. Don’t focus on their clothing or basic attributes like height and weight. Unless they’re 6’8″ or incredibly short, telling the police they were of “average height” isn’t going to help much. Instead, find something interesting or unique about them: tattoos, a foreign accent, a strange hairstyle, or a birthmark. If you were to describe a handful of people on the street, what would make your assailant stand out?

Some armchair robbery “survivors” suggest tossing your wallet or purse in one direction and running away in the other direction. This cartoon logic fails for a few reasons. The first is that quickly swiping for your valuables and hurriedly tossing them away isn’t inline with “keeping calm.” More importantly, your assailant may not have made the best life decisions, but they’re unlikely to be dumb enough to fall for this. Instead, stay calm, move slowly, and comply with their demands without resorting to silly trickery.

Sculpture of a bound man
Taken Hostage

Armed Hostage Taker

Unlike Hollywood films, if you’re taken hostage, it probably won’t be in some grandiose bank robbery scheme a la The Town. It’s more likely that you’ll be taken as collateral for a criminal to escape some other scenario. In most cases, the police will probably already be present or somewhere aware of the situation.

First, keep quiet. And, again, keep calm. This includes not screaming your head off as this will only ratchet up the assailant’s stress level and make the job all the more difficult for responding officers. In fact, it’s best to not talk at all. It’s important that police are able to control the situation and that includes having a clear line of communication with the criminal.

Stay as far away from your assailant as possible. This can be tricky, of course, as you probably won’t have free range to walk around the area where you’re being held. But, your assailant’s head is the prime target for officers looking to end the situation quickly if need be. That’s where the police are going to aim their kill shot, so you don’t want to be anywhere near it.

Armed Kidnapping at the Point of a Gun

Kidnapping is the rarest of these three scenarios. Contrary to what most people think, you probably have a better chance of winning the lottery than of being kidnapped. Official crime stats are difficult to come by, but it’s vanishingly rare.

Regardless, it’s the most complicated scenario here because it changes the dynamics significantly. There are too many variables at play to generalize every kidnapping situation. But, most cops will tell you not to comply in a kidnapping situation.

Avoid getting into a vehicle at all costs. If you’re in a crowded area, yell like hell and make a scene as much as possible. Even with a gun pointed at you, it’s unlikely your attacker will risk killing you with dozens of witnesses close by. Odds are good that they’ll run instead.

That said, if you’re behind the wheel of a car with a gun pointed at you, you can use the situation to your advantage. If in a heavily populated area, drive to the nearest police station or busy shopping center, slow down, and scream like hell. If you can keep the car moving, it’s unlikely your assailant will shoot you while the car is in motion. They may be a little tapped, but they’re probably not suicidal.

Odds are that you’re unlikely to be raped in a ransom situation. For such kidnappers, the play is almost always about money, not to dominate you sexually. They’re two very different scenarios. Plus, rape almost always leaves behind too much forensic evidence. Wise kidnappers wouldn’t want to risk getting caught — and losing a big payday — for that. Prison sentences for forcible rape often carry much longer mandatory sentences than kidnapping as well.

In all of these cases, there’s no perfect reaction. You’re going to be forced to decide between a bad and a worse course of action.

Avoid Situations Where a Gun Might Be Pulled on You

The best course of action is always prevention. You’ll never need to worry about any of the above advice if you’re not put in such a situation in the first place.

Don’t travel alone, especially at night and especially if you’re a woman. Most street criminals (think muggers) are cowards using their gun purely for intimidation. That is: they don’t have the intention or will to actually kill their victim(s). If you always travel with a friend, they’re less likely to attack you based purely on the numbers (two against one).

This should be obvious, but don’t be flashy or ostentatious. If you’re rocking expensive earrings or a $3,000 watch, you’re making yourself a target. Advertising to thieves that you’re an easy and profitable mark is the best way to get robbed. If you dress down and look “run of the mill,” it’s less likely anyone will attack you with the vague hope that they might make a payday. Make it harder for criminals and you’re far less likely to become a statistic.

If you’re a college student, know that most schools these days offer security escorts around campus after dark. If your school doesn’t, make a stink about it to your representatives and officials until they do. If your school already does, avail yourself of the service. It’s free and most of the security guards are happy to help.

Knowing how to properly defend yourself in close quarters combat, especially when you’re unarmed, is critical. If your local law allows, we always recommend having a stealth self-defense tool or a straight-up survival knife on you at all times for protection.

What would you do if someone threatened you with a gun?

These tips were compiled from in-the-field veterans like police officers and military personnel who know all too well what to do if someone pulls a gun on you.