It’s a quote often cited to soon to be Secretary of Defense, retired Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, but I know I had heard the phrase before Mattis rose to the public eye. “Be polite, be professional, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” This is most often cited by those who work in combat arms professions, though I have noticed most civilian carriers tend to shy away from such terminology. It seems they are afraid as being judged by those who do not carry as cowboys, as ticking time bombs waiting to snap and kill indiscriminately.

Put that out of your mind right now. Be shut of it. I’m telling you right now that life will go a lot easier if you embrace the meaning behind the mantra rather than shy away from it to avoid judgment by those who do not walk in your shoes.

Allow me to explain the mantra. Being polite and professional are things that my parents taught me growing up, and I’ve found it goes a long way in the real world. In the context of open and concealed carry, it also makes you an unassuming target. For every one time I have received a funny look for carrying my sidearm in the open, I have another instance of people finding me to be rather approachable and civil. Sometimes, people ask me questions about what I carry or why, and I maintain that polite and professional persona. Unless I know the person, they are “sir” or “ma’am,” and I address them with respect.

Here’s the key part that’s largely misinterpreted. “Have a plan to kill everyone you meet” does not mean you actively seek the death of all around you, nor does it make you a ticking time bomb. Think back to the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes. Remember the first fight scene where he analyzes his target, decides on a course of action, and then neutralizes the threat? That’s what you’re doing, with two major exceptions: you are prepared long before that person becomes a threat, and you are not enacting the plan unless they make themselves an imminent threat.

The late Jeff Cooper spelled it out in his color code. White status is what most people are in: they think there is no threat to their person, and if they are attacked, only the sheer incompetence of the attacker will save them. Yellow is a cognizance that there is, or may be, a present threat but you have not identified any in particular. Orange is where you have singled out a threat and have prepared your response: “If they do [action] X, I will respond with [action] Y.” Red is where the threat you marked in Orange Status has done X and you are enacting your plan.

The reason why you make a plan is so if somebody does X, if they threaten your life or the lives of those around you, you already have prepared a plan of action and can react to contact. In the military, we call this an immediate action drill or battle drill. You know your plan of action and have practiced it enough times so when it happens, all you do is react. Size up everybody around you. Check hands, waistlines, thighs. Study their behavior. Are they relaxed or do they look on edge? Are they strolling or are they moving quickly? Are they shifty eyed? Evaluate each person you meet and determine the best way to neutralize the threat, should one occur.

The more you sweat in training, the less you’ll bleed in combat. This applies to concealed carry situations as well as it applies to the combat mindset. Work your brain. Maintain your professionalism and decorum, but evaluate everyone you meet. Do not let yourself get caught off guard. In a time-is-life situation, you rarely get second chances.

Cover photo courtesy of MikeD_USMC on Twicsy.