GunMag Travel Tips: Practicing Safe Holiday Shopping

If you’re among those choosing to shop in person at the mall and various stores this holiday season, hit the pause button and think about potential safety hazards. It’s certainly your choice to brave the crowds for that sweet holiday deal, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful. At the best of times, shopping can be frustrating and risky; during the holidays, it’s far worse. We’re here to help you stay safe with these tips and tricks for a safer holiday shopping experience.

candy store
Location matters. Not all stores carry the same risk of trouble. (Photo credit: Only In Your State, Texas)

Location, location, location

Where are you shopping? Are you going to a popular mall or to Billy Bob’s House of Oddities with that shady back-alley entrance? When deciding where to shop, follow the “don’t go stupid places” rule. And no, the fact that you’re possibly armed with a concealed carry gun doesn’t make a stupid place better. If anything, it makes it even quite a bit worse. Where you shop alters the considerations for safety somewhat. If you’re shopping at a busy mall, you’re more prone to dealing with thieves and pickpockets. There’s also an elevated risk of an armed active shooter or stabbing situation (unfortunately). Although your chances of finding yourself the focus of an armed attack on a large scale are slim, they aren’t zero. Dealing with individuals in malls can be higher risk as well due to tempers running hot as the stress to find the perfect gift increases.

Conversely, if you’re going to some out of the way store, you’re less likely to deal with someone who is angry you grabbed the last item off a shelf. However, you might be increasing the risk of an assault from a stranger due to the simple fact that there are far fewer witnesses. We’re not saying to totally avoid riskier spots for shopping. Instead, we’re only suggesting you weigh the pros and cons, and take proper safety precautions when frequenting shops this holiday season.

holiday parking lot
Parking lots are transitional spaces, meaning they require an extra layer of attention to your surroundings. (Photo credit: eDriving via iStock)

Don’t get complacent in parking lots

Self-defense author Marc MacYoung once asked me what the scariest thing is about an empty parking lot. I had a few thoughts, but MacYoung condensed it simply: It’s you. The parking lot is empty, right? Then the scariest thing there is you. However, empty parking lots aren’t likely to be a thing during holiday shopping. A parking lot is what is known as a transitional space which means there’s it’s a place of constant movement and change. It’s an uncontrolled, potentially chaotic environment you have no choice but to spend time in. You can avoid creepy dark alleys and gas stations where gang members hang out, but you can’t stay away from parking lots in general. Fortunately, we have a few ideas on how to stay safe during time spent in transitional spaces:

  • If you’re returning to your vehicle, have your keys in your hand, ready to use. No, this doesn’t mean you should lace your individual keys between your fingers, because that’s a recipe for painful disaster. Just have your keys out and ready to get into your vehicle without pausing to dig them out.
  • Exiting your vehicle? Don’t sit or stand there with the truck door open, gathering your things to go shopping. Whatever you have—wallet, purse, cell phone, diaper bag—should be in-hand and good to go before your door ever opens. This also means you absolutely don’t stand there with your back to the parking lot while you gather your stuff.
distracted shopper being mugged
Don’t wander through the mall or a parking lot distracted. Pay attention to your surroundings. Be a hard target. (Photo credit: San Diego County News)
  • Don’t stare at your cell phone, or the ground, while walking to your destination. Pay attention to your surroundings. Be aware of your surroundings, and be obvious in your observation. Criminals tend not to shy away from those who see them coming.
  • Be aware of the potential theft value of the bags or package you’re carrying back to your truck. Certain stores and products have recognizable logos that might draw the eye of an opportunistic thief. When possible, stick pricier items in larger backs to keep them concealed.
  • Carrying a gun for self-defense purposes? Keep your dominant hand free. Don’t load up both hands with packages and bags. Your gun does you no good if you can’t immediately draw it.
  • Park in well-lit areas near the doors of the store when possible.
  • When you return to your vehicle, get in, shut the door, and lock it. Don’t fuss with carefully arranging packages or even buckling your kids in with an open door. Get in. Lock the door. Everything else can be handled once you’re locked in. It might be more awkward, but it can be done.
  • If you have a lot of bags and a shopping cart to empty, maintain situational awareness while you complete the task. Don’t get lost in your own thoughts, turn your back to passersby, or otherwise make yourself a soft target for criminals.

Above all, remember: there’s not a single gift or object more valuable than your life. Don’t defend the package itself with your life. Let it go.

video stills from mall fight
These video stills show a fight breaking out in a mall on the left and security attempting to intervene on the right. Remember, only you are responsible for your safety. (Photo credit: Off the Grid Survival)

Safety inside the mall or store

Once you’re inside the store, it’s easy to drop your guard as you scour the shelves for the perfect gift. That isn’t a great plan from a self-defense perspective, though. Stay safe during your actual shopping time by considering a few things:

  • Be familiar with the regulations and laws regarding concealed carry. Did you know certain signs prohibiting carry are only legally binding if they’re correctly posted? But wait…did you also know you still have to willingly leave if you’re asked to go? Get to know the laws and pay attention to signage. It varies by state and location, so never assume you already know.
  • Carry concealed, not openly. There are countless reasons not to regularly practice open carry. The thing we’ll mention here is that open carry doesn’t make you a deterrent to bad guys. It can have the opposite effect, not to mention it entirely removes the element of surprise.
concealed carry gun
Carrying? Be sure you know the regulations and laws. (Photo credit: Boise Public Radio)
  • Don’t get too close to other shoppers unless there’s truly no choice. Try not to get caught in a crush of people rushing around doing their holiday shopping. For safety’s sake it’s wise to avoid large crowds.
  • Be willing to let go of that fantastic deal. Imagine there’s only one Bubble Blaster 3000 left on the shelf. Just as you put your hand on it, someone else snatches it away. Let it go. No inanimate object is worth a fight or the legal fees that can follow an act of self-defense, even if it’s found to be justified. Go home to your family safe. Let the rude guy have whatever it is rather than getting into a brawl over it.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. We cannot stress this enough. Situational awareness always matters, and the second you let your guard down might be the moment something goes sideways.
  • Don’t assume you’re the only person present who’s armed. You’re not, and that goes for both legally armed and illegally armed people.

There’s always some element of risk with everything in life, you just have to decide what you feel is worth the benefit of taking on that initial risk. Holiday shopping is a stressful time for almost everyone, and you can’t control the behavior of others. All you can do is moderate your own behavior and work to avoid dangerous situations. De-escalation is the key for in-person shopping. Don’t be the one who starts trouble, be the one who walks away.

Enjoy the holidays! May your shopping sprees be productive and your choices of gifts well-received.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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