The Gray Man Theory – a Self Defense Strategy

Last updated on October 9th, 2023

In my concealed carry and use of force classes, I often tell my students, “I’ll teach you how to use a gun. I’ll teach you when and where you can use a gun. But, the most important thing I will teach you is how to avoid ever having to use your firearm in the first place.”  Introduce the concept of the Gray Man Theory. Blend in, don’t stand out. Don’t attract unwanted attention. 

The gray man theory is a mindset. Embracing this mindset offers practical strategies for blending in and minimizing risks in various day-to-day situations. This approach, rooted in the principle of inconspicuousness, can empower us to navigate our surroundings with vigilance and caution.

While I’d like to take credit for originating the gray man theory, I cannot. And although I don’t know who originally came up with the idea, “the gray man” is a term that I’ve been hearing and reading about since the early 2000s.  The idea is more commonly discussed in prepper groups, particularly after some sort of catastrophic event, but the principles apply to each of us in our day-to-day lives to enhance our own personal security. 

The Gray Man approach revolves around the idea of being inconspicuous and avoiding drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves. By adopting this mindset, we reduce the risk of becoming a target for criminals or individuals with malicious intent. Blending in with our surroundings and appearing average or unremarkable can contribute significantly to our personal security.

Often in gun groups and various self-defense circles, the topic we most discuss is “Situational awareness”. That means being aware of the world around us.  I won’t discount the importance of situational awareness. Situational awareness is incredibly important. But we should devote equal effort toward not attracting any unwanted attention in the first place.  If we are aware, the chance that we are selected as easy victims is diminished. However, if we don’t look as if we have anything to offer, we blend in, then the chance that we are selected as a worthwhile victim is also reduced. 

Avoid Drawing Unwanted Attention

Criminals aren’t as dumb as we would like to pretend. Criminals are very good at victim selection, and there have been numerous studies and books written on the subject. If, by employing situational awareness, we do not look like easy victims then the criminal is more likely to choose an easier target. If, by employing the gray man theory, we don’t look like we have anything of value worth taking, the criminal won’t want to waste their time for little or no reward.

criminal in hoodie

Walking around high crime areas with a fancy watch or jewelry isn’t exactly gray man. You’re not necessarily blending in.  It causes unwanted attention. Someone may want to take what you’ve got.  However, if that person doesn’t know what you have because you were aware enough to realize that the fancy watch would cause you to stand out, then you can remove it before it makes you a target.

open carry

Let me say this regarding open carry. We all know open carry is illegal in Illinois except under very specific circumstances. I personally feel it should be the individual’s right to decide how they want to carry their firearm. But if open carry were legal, I would still carry concealed. My rule of thumb is open carry for four-legged predators and carry concealed for two-legged predators. I’ve seen far too many videos of unaware people getting disarmed while open carrying. To me, the idea that open-carry is a deterrent isn’t nearly as strong as the reality that open-carry makes you a target.

I also want to mention “the gun guy uniform” that’s not very gray man.  Tactical boots, cargo pants, NRA T-shirt. Everything about the gun guy uniform screams, “I’ve got a gun.” Why is this bad?  People get “swatted”. This even happened to a friend of mine who was using a big bulky OWB holster under his sweatshirt.

I’ve seen people get their concealed carry license and their entire wardrobe changes. 5.11 isn’t the only manufacturer of clothing.  Dress how you normally would dress when going to work or hanging out with friends and family.  The gun guy uniform isn’t much different from open carry if you really think about it. If we dress appropriately for the context, we reduce the chances of being singled out as a potential target.

I like to play a game. Through situational awareness, I’ll spot someone who is wearing the “gun guy” uniform. I will then discreetly watch them and try to identify all of their preps. Do they have a flashlight, a pocket knife, concealed carry pistol, or a personal first aid kit? I’ll almost always find at least one, usually two. But the key takeaway here is the first thing that drew my attention was that their clothing stood out. 

gun guy uniform 511

Ever seen a car or pickup truck with III% stickers, NRA stickers, or various different gun clip art?  On one hand, I’m happy the driver isn’t allowing the world to treat gun owners like second-class citizens. However on the other hand these stickers make your vehicle a target for gun thieves. Not just gun thieves, but unhinged idiots who have a fanatical opposition to self-defense may smash your windows purely for spite.  When I was in high school many of us had sound systems in our cars.  However, the ones whose vehicles were burglarized were the ones with stickers on their windows advertising what is inside. 

Be the Gray Man on Social Media

Remember that we are always in public if we use social media. I often chuckle at people who oppose gun registries, as I do, but then voluntarily post each and every new gun their purchase online. In jest, I’ll often refer to this the voluntary Facebook gun registry. I am very selective of the firearms I post online, even in my YouTube videos. Would it be a stretch to think the government is using AI to catalog these items? Maybe. But it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that jealous criminals are watching and waiting for the opportunity to take what’s yours. 

And not just guns, be very careful of exactly what information you post on the internet. Especially be careful about letting people know you aren’t home.  Vacation photos in real-time are generally a huge no-no. This lets everyone know your home is likely unattended.

Let me be clear. I am not victim-shaming. In a perfect world, we should be able to open carry, we should be able to wear whatever we want to wear, and we should be able to advertise and promote our club affiliations and interests. But we also have to remember that we don’t live in the perfect world. The gray man theory is a real-world approach to personal security that will reduce the likelihood that you’ll be a victim, and reduce the likelihood that you’ll garner any unwanted attention from an unhinged hoplophobe.


3 thoughts on “The Gray Man Theory – a Self Defense Strategy”

    1. You are absolutely correct. As an instructor, I tell my students not to talk about concealed carry or gun ownership with most people. I then explain why. Many of the examples come from real-life experience.

      As a business owner, it is my job to promote. Very few businesses operate successfully in secrecy. Therefore, I have experienced the ramifications firsthand. I even acknowledge this in the video.

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