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Role of Firearms in Executive Protection (Part 1)

Time And Distance Drill

In Part-One of this Two-Part series on the role of firearms in executive protection, GDBA Senior Vice President, James Hamilton, discusses his personal journey as a Protector and how as a younger FBI Special Agent he incorrectly prioritized firearms in his protection planning.

Are Protectors Too Reliant on their Firearms?

In the above photograph, the Venezuelan President’s close protection officer is reaching for his firearm upon hearing an explosion from the sky, later reported as a drone fitted with explosives. Instinctively, the protection officer reached for his pistol, which we know is not effective against an explosion. In that moment, his training betrayed him. As a former law enforcement officer turned close protection agent, I too have had to un-train this response – going for my gun first — and it has not been easy.

Europe - 2007

As a Special Agent of the FBI, I still remember landing in a major European city to provide close protection for a Protectee. Per policy and days before my Protectee’s arrival, I met with the host country’s security service. I still recall my disbelief when they denied my team’s firearms request. Needless to say, I was pissed.

After notifying senior leadership in DC, they instructed me to continue planning the trip. Armed or unarmed, my Protectee was coming. So I carried on and did what I always did – drove the routes, advanced locations, liaised with local law enforcement and venue security, ensured my team was situationally aware, and confirmed we had our medical kit plus spare batteries for radios. Soon after, the Protectee arrived and the mission went as planned.

Although things went smoothly, the denial of the weapons permits affected me mentally and highlighted this concerning reality: I had become over reliant on my firearm.

During my entire 22-year career in law enforcement – as a sheriff’s deputy and as a FBI Special Agent – I justifiably carried a firearm. Even now, operating as a Protector in the private sector, I continue to carry a concealed weapon. Yet, I now understand that my firearm is just one tool in my tool kit.

Upon my return from that trip to Europe years ago, I began to research all I could on close protection and anti-assassination strategies. What I discovered shocked me.

Shocking Revelation

At our firm’s Essential Protection Skills (EPS) Academy, I often ask trainees to tell me about an incident in the United States where a Protector employing his or her firearm stopped an assault or assassination on a public figure. To this day, no answers have been given.

A careful study of the subject provides an answer to this often over-looked question. In the book, Just 2 Seconds, the authors exhaustively researched more than 1500 attacks on public figures. Their conclusion, when I read it ten years ago, shocked me:

“None of these attacks (in a public setting) were fully prevented as the direct and provable result of the use of firearms by Protectors.”

How could this be?” I thought. “Hadn’t my thousands of hours on the pistol range prepared me to handle an armed assassin?” After further contemplation, I came to this realization: I was wrong.

Just 2 Seconds had mountains of evidence and examples to prove me wrong. All I had were presumptions. Since my shocking revelation ten years ago…

…I’ve yet to read anything or speak to anyone who is aware of an attack on a public figure in the United States (in a public setting), where the Protectors successfully thwarted the attack through employing their firearms against the attacker.

Next week, in Part‑2 of this Two-Part series, I will explain this Golden Rule of Close Protection: Upon a Protector’s “Moment of Recognition” (of an attack), the first priority is to cover and evacuate the Protectee.

By drawing their firearms first during an attack, a Protector is delaying the precious moments he or she needs to move their protectee to safety.

James HamiltonJames Hamilton is a Senior Vice President at Gavin de Becker & Associates. James served 17 years as a Special Agent in the FBI, where he was handpicked to create the Bureau’s close protection course. His courses are currently taught at the NSA, NYPD, and many other agencies.

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