Instructor Brian Smith coaches folks on how to resist a carjacker trying to pull you out of the car.

Not long ago, Guns Save Life welcomed one of the best firearm instructors in the nation at our GSL meeting. During his visit, Brian Smith talked about strategies for dealing with the rampant carjackings taking place in Chicagoland.

It can happen to anyone, and it’s happening increasingly in cities across the country. In fact, it happened to Smith’s own son not far from mom and dad’s house.

Smith weaved in some videos with personal experiences and advice. Obviously, with the relative paucity of carry licenses in Chicago compared to other locations, bad guys can be reasonably confident their victims won’t have the means to shoot back.

He personalized the lesson recalling how he helped save his son from getting carjacked not so long ago, and played the 9-1-1 recording of his wife’s call for help as the retired cop held the would-be carjacker — a man out on parole for murder — at gunpoint.

As a learning tool, Smith showed surveillance videos of carjackings. Groups of three to four perpetrators generally commit these violent thefts. Before they act, they drive around looking for nice rides. Then they look for opportunities to carry out a carjacking as the driver is stopped…at a traffic light, a stop sign or getting out of their car such as at a gas station, in a parking lot. And sometimes they a stage accidents.

Sometimes they’ll slip a note or some money under a windshield wiper in a parking lot to get their victims to stop, get out and read the note or pull the cash out from under the windshield wiper. They strike while the motorist is reading the note or getting the cash.

In addition to high-end cars and SUVs wanted for joyrides, more organized carjackers also target plain Jane cars like the Honda and Toyota sedans along with popular pickup trucks. Parted out, these newer cars are worth more for parts than the car is as a whole. Obviously thieves need the key fob to make the car run, so they have to get it from the occupant while they’re in or near their car/truck/SUV.

Smith suggested the first and foremost way to avoid carjacking is to maintain heightened situational awareness when approaching or leaving your car anywhere in public. Also, while driving, carefully watch for someone following you, especially if they vehicle has a number of people in it.

If you suspect someone is following you, make a series of right turns around a block or two and if they’re still behind you, call 9-1-1 and drive toward the nearest police station.

In parking lots, he recommended parking close to the entrance. Also, by parking close to another parked car, you force anyone approaching to “line up” or “stack” to reduce the number of people you have to defend against at the same time.

He also recommended what he calls “tactical parking” — backing into a parking place which allows you to leave in a hurry if something hinky happens.

Other suggestions from audience members included ONLY fueling in the mornings at stations in better, more heavily traveled areas.

From some of the videos, other lessons included . . .

  • Park in well-lit areas or near store entrances where there are a lot of people.
    Stay alert. Walk toward your parked car with the key already in your hand. Check the car’s immediate surroundings for anything suspicious. Be aware of nearby cars that are occupied. Be wary of people asking for directions. If your gut tells you something’s wrong, something is probably wrong. Return to an occupied area and call the police or seek assistance from security.
  • Don’t approach your car with both hands full.
  • Stay off the phone. Nothing screams “distracted victim” more than checking your phone as you approach your car, right after entering the car, or at a stop light. Keep your head up, not buried in your phone.
  • Be especially alert any time you come to a stop – at traffic lights, gated entrances, drive-ups or drive-throughs, highway exits, or anywhere there are pedestrians… especially where pedestrians appear to be loitering or panhandling.

  • Lock your doors and close your windows while driving. That sounds pretty self-explanatory, but this can’t be emphasized enough. You don’t want to give car thieves the opportunity to drag you out of your own car when you stop at the intersection.
  • Don’t leave valuables (like your purse, ladies) in plain sight. Place your bags, gadgets, etc. where they can’t be seen from outside the car.
  • Avoid driving in unfamiliar areas or shady neighborhoods if possible. Don’t gas up just anywhere. Consider driving through a gas station looking for anyone who’s loitering before you select a pump.
  • Avoid using ATMs in sketchy locations and use them in the mornings, not at midnight.
  • Keep your car tuned up and full of gas. You don’t want to run out of gas or break down to make yourself a prime target for bad things to happen.

  • Allow room between your car and the one ahead of you. As a rule of thumb, if you can see the bottom of the rear tires of the car in front of you, you have enough room to maneuver in case you need to get away.
  • Don’t get out of your car immediately after a traffic accident. Call 9-1-1, even if there are no injuries or it seems minor. You may have just been bumped by people planning to take your car at gun- or knifepoint.

Bad guys displaying weapons trying to carjack you are generally fair game for you to employ deadly force in self-defense, Smith said. This may involve using your car’s bumper or squashing them between your car and something else.

Alternatively, you could use your firearm, although he cautioned against shooting unarmed bad guys trying to steal your unoccupied car. Now, if your three-year-old twin grandkids are in the back, that’s another story entirely.

He also mentioned that just like athletes get hurt on the field, then sometimes get up and return to the game, bad guys who have been shot sometimes do the same thing.

If you have to shoot an attacker, you need to know they may get back up and “return to the game” of attacking you. For this reason, he says, you need as much ammo as you can reasonably carry. And, he said, a five-shot revolver just isn’t enough today.

Smith called upon volunteers and demonstrated some simple empty-hand techniques to escape a grab attempt, including relaxing your body against someone trying to grab or pull you (easier said than done when under attack) and how just opening your clenched fist and pointing your fingers at the sky you can often escape someone trying to pull you by the hand (say, out of a car).

Few people have a chance to shoot through windshields, but he noted how shooting through safety glass will deflect bullets significantly. When firing into a car through the windshield, the rounds will deflect downwards. When firing out through a windshield, the rounds will deflect upwards, causing rounds to go over the head of an attacker standing just five or ten feet in front of the car if you don’t compensate.

The audience asked a number of questions and Mr. Smith did a tremendous job answering them, oftentimes by pulling up videos from quite a library to emphasize his points.

Mr. Smith offers a wide range of courses for regular people through his Metropolitan Police Self-Defense Institute of Chicago.

Mr. Smith, who’s based in Illinois, has a resume that’s akin to that of nationally-known trainers like Massad Ayoob, John Farnam and similar instructors. In this time of spiraling violent crime, citizens owe it to themselves to be prudent about their personal defense. You don’t have to live life as a helpless, defenseless victim.

Empower yourself. Become a firearm owner, get training and become a hard target.