Hostile Environments – Working Armed Internationally!
Traveling with firearms and using them for self-defense internationally
I am always being asked about which guns are best for close protection details and personal defense etc… My answer is whatever you have access to and what hopefully goes bang when you pull the trigger!! In the U.S. people are spoilt as far as firearms are concerned, in most U.S. states they are freely available to those without criminal records and the use of force laws are very lenient. This is not so in many other countries!
If you are traveling internationally the chances are you will not be able to take firearms with you due to the laws in the country you are visiting, which you need to check before travelling. In many countries you can take sporting/hunting guns if you manage to get a permit from the embassy of that country before you travel. This can be a long and difficult process and will also put yourself and your project on the radar of the country you’re visiting before you even get there. If you get permission to take a firearm with you into another country the chances are the permit will not be carry permits. In most places citizens and legal residents of that country are the only ones who can get firearms ownership permits and carry permits, if they are available.
It is also very important know the laws on use of force and restrictions on any weapons such as knives and pepper spray you may want to carry. In places such as England if you caught with the type of pepper spray you can buy at a gas station in most of the U.S. you’re looking at being arrested and I believe spending up to 2 years in prison.
Even in countries that have a reputation for high crime and violence the chances are that firearms will officially be regulated, usually strictly. I was recently asked to train a U.S. team who claimed to be going to Mexico, where firearms are very restricted, officially, even for Mexican citizens. When I asked these guys weather it they wanted an armed or unarmed course they said armed. When I asked them how they were going to carry in Mexico, they said they were working on it. More like dreaming, sure if you’re working for the Cartels you’ll get guns no problems, I hung up, I don’t waste my time on such people.
I hear regularly of people that have armed contracts in Mexico and are looking for bodyguards etc. These people and companies are 99.9% of the time just looking to build a data base of resumes/CV or to promote themselves. I also hear stories of people claiming to work armed in Mexico, claiming to run hostage rescue missions etc. Well as I am writing this just yesterday a U.S. Marine, Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, was released from 8 months in a Mexican jail for accidently driving down a wrong border road and in to a Mexican police check point, with U.S. legal firearms in his vehicle. So, how do you think the Mexican Authorities would react to someone dressed in tactical gear with an AR-15 claiming to be there to do a hostage rescue mission. Well, if they did not get shot straight away they would be going straight to jail and being paraded for all the international news channels to see!
Reality check: In Mexico if you caught carrying a gun without the right paperwork, which is impossible to get for foreigners or non-Mexican military or police personnel you will have problems. If you are caught by the police or involved in a shooting you’re going to jail and better have plenty of $$ available if you want to get out. If you’re caught in a cartel road block and they find a gun… The best hope for you is they kill you quickly!! You may feel like a tough guy with a 9mm but up against half a dozen shooters with AK’s and AR’s you’re going to have issues!!
Another recent example was of the crew of the U.S. Salvage Vessel the “Aqua Quest” who were arrested in Honduras and held for two months in Jail. Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries going but they still strictly enforce gun laws. In this case it seem the crew took in weapons that were not legal in the country, combine this with entrepreneurial police and you have a big problem. Both the crew of the “Aqua Quest” and “Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi” were very lucky to get released but they had family and supporters who pushed the cases for their innocence. As a security contractor don’t expect such niceties, you will be guilty until proven innocent. A good example of this is the four Blackwater guards that were recently convicted for multiple chargers in the case of the Baghdad shooting in 2007.
Most international protection jobs are unarmed; Iraq and Afghanistan are unique situations that I doubt we we’ll see again. Close protection operators must know how to avoid problems, which is where the skill lies. I can teach someone to shoot in a day, to teach someone to be street wise and able to operate takes a lot longer.
When considering traveling with weapons you need to ask yourself some simple questions, as usual you’re doing a threat assessment. You need to consider: 1) The legalities of carrying weapons and use of force? 2) Will you actually need to be armed? 3) What weapons are available? 4) The consequences if stopped by police or criminals? 5) The consequences for use of force?
- The Legalities of carrying weapons and use of force: You need to know firstly if it is legal to import or carry firearms or other weapons. This where you need to do your research, contact the countries embassies or ask contacts within the country what the regulations are. Also, you need to know what the laws on the use of force are as these vary greatly. In U.S. states such as Florida if someone threatens you with a knife and you are in fear for your safety you can shoot and kill them, no problems. In some South American countries a knife is not seen as being the same threat level of a gun, so you would need to initially use impact weapons etc. to counter an knife attack! This may not seem logical to some but it’s the law and you need to know it, especially if you have to deal with the police.
- Will you actually need to be armed: The answer to this question most of the time in reality will be no! I have come across numerous people over the years who consider anything outside of Western Europe or the U.S. as a war zone. I have heard of people claiming to have turning down jobs in Africa, in places which are in reality safe and where I have partied because they could not carry a gun… I had one wealthy student and new resident to Miami Beach wanting to buy a .50 sniper rifle to shoot anyone stealing his motor yacht from the bottom of his garden, I take he watched “Scarface” a few to many times. He changed his mind when he realized there was a very good chance of him doing life in prison if he ever tried sniping a Miami Beach pirate, better just to insure the boat! Now, what if you assessment says yes you need to be armed but it’s not legal to do so. Are you going to risk it or turn the job down, that is something only you can answer!
- What weapons are available: Now, you have decided you need to be armed so where will you get the weapons from and what is available. As, I have said in a lot of countries only citizens of that country can buy firearms and it can be a lengthy process. So, if you cannot take a firearm with you can you borrow a firearm from a local contact and will it be legal? Can you by weapons on the street or black market and again is that legal? If you cannot get hold of firearms then what else is available? If you are properly trained you can turn most things into some sort of impact or edged weapon. Now, if you can get firearms what are the best to have? My answer to this is what is reliable and what has a good supply of ammo and parts. I was working in South Africa in 1994 and was initially given a 4 inch .357 Taurus revolver that was rusted and as dry as a nun’s crotch. Don’t expect people to give you their best weapons, have to learn to use what you’re given and to complain enough to get what you want. .357 revolvers are still a favored weapon of mine BTW!
- The consequences if stopped by police or criminals: Now you have your pistol with you or your shotgun in the trunk of the car and you’re stopped by the police, are there going to be any issues. Is your paperwork good, really good? Will it help if you pay a bribe or will that cause you more problems? Even in Florida, U.S. where you can legally carry pistols etc. I regularly hear of people getting a hard time from the police because they are armed. One guard that was working for me was stopped by the police when going home from a detail one morning. The cops had him sat on the sidewalk as they searched his truck, he knew he had nothing to hide and it was quicker to consent to a search than wait for a K-9 to be called out. The guard had 3 State licenses so, why did the police do this, why not? I take it they were bored, saw the Blackwater sticker on his truck and wanted to mess with him. So, what if he was with a client… Same thing can happen, the cops if they see there is an opportunity to drop a business card to the client will mess with the guard; run a check the serial number of the gun, unload and strip it before returning it etc. And this is in a supposed first world country. Now, think about if you’re stopped by Cartel in Central America, would you want to be carrying the Glock 17 which is an excellent weapons but screams Government issued or a small nickel plated snub revolver which just says you’re a bit wise and careful… Consider all angles, the bad guys do!
- The consequences for use of force: The biggest issue when carrying weapons is what are the ramifications if you have to use them. Even if the use of force is justified you can initially be arrested and go to jail until the facts are sorted out. In countries where the police are entrepreneurial the fact a foreigner killed a local with open the opportunity for a potential pay day! One incident from South America; a businessman with a pistol carry permit was attack by a robber with a knife. The business man flashed his gun and the criminal backed off, only to attack again as the businessman was just entering his car. End result the criminal was killed, 100% justified defensive shooting. That shooting cost the businessman $20,000.00 not to go to jail for a long time. The police and the judge knew he had some money and now had an opportunity to extort him, this is how things work… $20K was a far better deal than going to a 3rd world jail! The other issue with killing people is that in a lot of places their families or fellow gang members will be coming after you and your family. I know of several cases where ex-pats had to leave Latin American/Caribbean countries because of personal safety reasons after they justifiably killed a bad guy.
I tell me students and clients that guns can get you out of trouble, but can also get in you into a lot more trouble! If you’re working armed you need to have done your homework and worked out how you’re going to deal with all the potential problems that can occur from carrying a weapon and using force etc. For example, if you drop someone are you going to hang around and possible end up in a 3rd world jail or go straight to plan “Foxtrot Oscar”? Most people in the close protection business see themselves as reactionary; if they are attacked they’ll save their client… There is a bit more to it than that! Here’s a tip, if your low profile and it gets to the stage your being attacked you’ve missed something and will most probably be the first to die, hopefully quickly!
“Stay low and keep moving”