Hard Lessons: The Non-Permissive Environment

Think you know about the non-permissive environment? We give some hard lessons about laws, ethics, and methods of staying under the radar.

January 26, 2020
ISG Team


This is going to be a whirlwind of topics.

Fair warning, we're going to discuss things that will make you laugh, make you angry, make you uncomfortable, and possibly disgusted. The information in this article is to be viewed as theoretical and in no way should be misconstrued as advice to break laws. Don't.

If you do, it's on you.

So, we need to begin by saying something controversial:

You have no rights. All law is an illusion. The only thing that's real is consequence.

Consider what right you can carry with you across borders anywhere in the world.

Name something you're free to do without oversight, taxes, fees, or permitting.

We're not here to make judgments on this, indeed, these aren't our concerns at all. We can still respect the institution of law while accepting that it doesn't always have our best interest in mind.

Wounded knee, 1891 (left) and 1973 (right). The 1891 Massacre occurred when the 7th Cav moved in to disarm the Lakota. This at the end of hunting their food source to near extinction, failing to honor treaty after treaty, and failure to even recognize the reservation's boundaries. Disarmament is to political violence what a bag over the head is to individual abduction. Once it happens, you're f***ed. Notice the different expression on the Lakota faces in 1973 (though sadly they wouldn't stay that way).
Governments go on to express deep regret while families are relegated to history's infinite book of the dead.

Our concern is:

We're held in place by the social contract - a sort of agreement that we all will 'play by the rules', and regardless of the type of government you live under, you're expected to live with the rules or face consequences.

Right now, it's illegal for you to carry a pistol in most states without a license, but an 11-year old boy in drag is legally allowed to dance in a New York gay club. Broward County in Florida was exonerated from any responsibility to act in defense of the children killed during the 2017 shooting, citing that they have no duty to protect citizens that aren't in custody.

When we tie this all together we can say:

  • -Governments are made of people and people are imperfect. They make mistakes and create problems. Sometimes they fix mistakes and solve problems.

  • -Justice has nothing to do with morality. More often than not, justice is a total myth. You might not want to hear or believe that, but once you've been incarcerated you start to see it for what it is. The courts don't (and can't) weigh your 'total person' against your 'crimes'. They can weigh your bank account by way of your lawyer.
    As my father says "you can have just as much justice as you can afford."

  • -The police have no duty to protect you. This was established in Warren vs D.C., (Thank you Mike B. for the catch!) affirmed by Castle Rock v Gonzales, and reaffirmed recently after a judge dismissed a case against the Broward county Police Department, saying they have no duty to protect students during an active shooter crisis. They only have to protect subjects in custody. Whether or not this is an appropriate legal precedent, it should tell us something very important:

The police aren't coming to help you. We're on our own.

Since we can't count on anyone to uphold our values, protect us, or acknowledge our rights, it's on us to decide what is moral, ethical, and right. Sometimes, those things may not be legal. Sometimes, there's just no cogent administration of society. This is sometimes justification for civil disobedience.

Enter the "non-permissive environment".

Non-Permissive Definition

Gun Free Zones aren't the extent of the NPE - but they're a common manifestation stateside.

When we discuss permissivity of environments, we're not talking about having permission. We're talking about places in which the hand of authority isn't up to its elbow in your business.

The concept itself has leaked out of the Intelligence Community (IC) and it differs from Permissive, Uncertain, or Hostile environments in that the authorities don't have effective control over the non-permissive environment. Working in those spaces, you're entirely on your own and it's come to mean "areas in which your normal behaviors or habits are not permissible".

That means punishment if you're caught. Consequences. That makes what we're in more of an "uncertain" environment, but it doesn't really matter.

Whatever the phrase's initial intent, it's come to mean 'a place in which you don't have permission to act in a way that's otherwise normal'.

A particularly relevant example is 'gun free zones' which statistically, encourage mass shootings or workplace violence, but there are other environments that are non-permissive as well. Often times these areas are shopping malls or parks, in which carry of weapon itself would have no negative impact. Some factors that create a non-permissive environment or NPE:

  • -Checkpoints that restrict entry
  • -Detention centers such as jails, prisons, or illegal captivity
  • -Invasions into privacy, such as metal detectors or x-ray imaging machines that search your person
  • -Signs or statutes that give notice that you have to observe rules that may exclude your rights

  • -Communities or areas that would be hostile to your presence based on your affiliation, religion, ethnicity, nationality, or lifestyle.

The Balkans were a non-permissive environment. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Irene, or superstorm Sandy were non-permissive environments. Airports, schools, and Government buildings are non-permissive environments. There are neighborhoods in the U.S. that are non-permissive on a daily basis.

If it goes down while you're in one, there's no one to call. You're on your own.

Legal vs Moral

Often as not, things that are illegal are perfectly fine morally (concealed carry of a weapon), while things that are legal are clearly amoral to all but the most demented minds (state sanctioned genocides). Humans are irrational and will justify all manner of heinous stuff ...and laws look different to the tyrant than to the oppressed.

When we view legality in this way, it becomes clear that sometimes our best interest is not at heart when governments pass laws... such as those forcing Jews to self identify, surrender weapons, and wear markings so they could be immediately picked out in a crowd. Gottfried's law aside, there are less egregious examples as well. For a while, alcohol was prohibited before the government saw that the second order affects caused by prohibition were worse than the costs of allowing alcohol. There's a similar thing happening with marijuana as of the time of this writing. In time, it'll be self-evident that the enforcement of petty drug laws are more caustic than the drug itself.

There's a subtle lesson we can tease out from these examples, whether we agree with them or not:

Laws are about ensuring compliance, whereas morality is about living in such a way that creates no victims.

It's easy to forget that within the lifetimes of most of our parents or grandparents, Black citizens in the U.S. couldn't eat at restaurants with whites. They couldn't go to white schools, or get the right to vote until 1964-65.

So here's our philosophy:

Create no victims. Our philosophy transcends law. It's more important than law. It used to be widely accepted as true, but we live aphilosophical lives and hedonism has replaced any sort of cogent social 'code'.

Live your life in a way that creates no victims and don't tolerate those who'd make them.


The aftermath of the Mandalay Bay shooting.

To be perfectly clear, most of the time there's no harm in going along with what's legal. This article isn't to express support for those who go and flash their ass at the law looking to validate themselves or force their opinions on others.

We're not going to advocate open carrying your SKS into Starbucks, we're not going to make the government out to be evil or encourage you to break the law... These things just are what they are and you need to consider them.

If you have a reason to believe that your life might be in danger and the laws prohibit you from defending yourself, you have a decision to make. As my dad is fond of saying:

"It doesn't matter if you're right if you're dead."

Especially with situations like stalkers or abusive husbands, the law is notoriously ineffective (see: Predatory behavior).

We're just going to talk about judgment and discretion so that you can skirt that razors edge without taking unnecessary risks.

Threats in Gun Free Zones

If we accept Lott's analysis that most shootings happen in gun free zones - places that we commonly refer to as NPE - the places we're denied firearms are where we'll need them most. Washed down with an unhealthy dose of reality in the form of "police don't have to protect our children in gun free zones", we have to have a layered plan for dealing with threats. The official (and usually bad advice) is to have kids hide and shelter in place if an active shooter arrives. That's basically like playing Russian Roulette and even the FBI has concluded that citizens have a positive effect on the outcome of active shooters.

If you've got solid officers who are committed to the philosophy of defending others, you might get lucky. If not, you're at the mercy of the shooter's ammo supply. So in addition to having options to answer violence with violence, don't forget the awareness, judgment, and tactical aspects:

Get away from the group.

Don't get caught in a room with only one exit.

Don't be afraid to make an exit.

If you do find yourself under incarceration for having acted in defense of life but in violation of law, repeat this 10 times:


Police aren't bad. They're not your enemy. They're people, and as such, there are great ones and terrible ones.

What they are is "impartial conveyors of fact to prosecutors", who ARE your enemy. Your job is to stay quiet; this might mean telling them your chest hurts and you think you might be having a heart attack. Get to the hospital. Tell them you can't remember due to your nerves. Tell them you'd like to speak with your legal counsel (and hint: have one ready). Tell them it all happened so fast you just can't remember and you think you need to sit down. Be prepared for that sit down to be in the back of a police cruiser for hours... While in handcuffs. Remember "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."

We hear that so often we forget just how important the Miranda warning is. If you say it, they'll use it against you in court. SO DON'T SAY IT.

Don't just recite internet mythology like "I was in fear for my life". That's something that can be corroborated by witnesses. It becomes a game of Chess - your opening play is going to determine the rest of the game and as much as your conscience is going to tell you "I'm a good guy, they'll understand", this isn't how it works. They want you to make their job easy by giving them an arrest and a story. Don't.

Get to a jury trial, do not accept a plea bargain (no matter how high that DA turns up the heat - if you made good decisions, a jury will not find you guilty of saving their children's lives) and don't be afraid to fire your counsel. Remember: 12 of your peers have to find that you were guilty of the crime you were charged with beyond a reasonable doubt. If you were charged with manslaughter, don't worry about a violation of carrying a gun in a gun free zone. Make them prove exactly what they're charging you with in a way that 12 people could agree with. They probably can't. Our justice system works on ignorance of the processes and fear.

These are from some hard learned, personal lessons dealing with the 'justice' system. It's a monetized effort and you're a shammy to be wrung dry. Don't talk except to your legally appointed counsel, demand your right to a trial by jury, and convince the jury that what you did was reasonable... not the police or DA.

Foreign Travel

I haven't, but I read about one while in a cell once. Not a great literary option given the circumstances.

One of our crusades is to get people away from stopping short of leaving their home if they can't have a gun and to get them away from the practice of optimizing their armory and training to the point that it's built around highly customized tools.

It's beneficial to train with iron sights, pump shotguns, revolvers, foreign rifle platforms like the AK and the FAL, and to practice going unarmed, because those are normal parts of every country you may find yourself in. Things we may make fun of here (a beat up .38 special in a nylon holster) might be the only option available to someone overseas... even in nations where guns are illegal, often times residents still have weapons. Further, if you find yourself traveling without your weapons, you may have to use stuff other than your 'ideal' setup. Check out Greg Ellifritz's travels to Latin America for more.

For this reason, part of living, working, and playing in non-permissive environments is bridging those skill gaps by developing a comprehensive ability to default to awareness and social skills, and to competently use or understand non-standard weapons if the need arises.

One of the reasons we encourage the ISG community to take a course on Escape and Evasion is that such courses make consequences for bad judgment *very* real.

When getting caught means you'll get waterboarded or zapped with a portable TEMS unit until you're peeing yourself, you tend to think a lot less about how much ass you could be kicking, and how you could be staying low, and thinking through a reasonable escape plan.

Especially in foreign countries where you cannot count on legal representation or the right to be innocent until proven guilty, it pays to be overly cautious.

So, as we discuss in road tactics, some planning and knowledge of the local area is important. Where are the places that are known friendly? Embassies? Hospitals?

Make your plan for the non-permissive environment more than just "I'd choke that guy out and snatch his gat." Of course, have layers to your plan.

Carrying in the NPE

While we're not going to talk a lot about the reasons that you might want to have a weapon on you when it's not legally permitted, what we will say is that there's not a lot of good information on the topic. Often as not, people - especially professionals in the military and police world - are awful at actually concealing a weapon. They're not categorically qualified to talk about it because typically there's not any pressing reason for them to conceal a weapon.

When there is, the guys who talk on it generally really know their stuff, but you could also end up with sock holsters, so, grain of salt.

One of the first and most confusing problems with having standard equipment is carrying stuff that's legal in one place, and illegal in another. Cross from Philadelphia to Camden New Jersey, and you go from a state that recognizes 19 other states' concealed weapons permits, to a state that will arrest you on the spot and charge you with a second degree felony.

Regardless of your position on guns, this inconsistency should again punctuate that your rights end where the will of the law to force you into compliance begins.

Five things need to happen if you're going to carry anyway:

  • -Scout - the first week or so of any new NPE environment, go weaponless. Don't risk running into a chance metal detector or checkpoint because you feel naked without your gun. If you ever get that feeling, use it as a cue that you need to strengthen your other skills to the point that you're not so reliant on the gun as a psychological crutch. <- Read that again.

  • -Find the right tools - don't roll around with a full sized G17 under a t-shirt if it is illegal. Look for other options (edged weapons, etc) that are legal, and if you can't find a suitable alternative, select a weapon that's concealable and the clothes to make sure it stays out of sight. Assess your needs and move from there. Don't buy stuff and then try and find a use for it.

  • -If possible get a good holster- In places where there are good holster options, you probably have to worry a lot less about gun laws. Depending on just how 'non-permissive', you may not want a holster. "Mexican Carry", or carrying without a holster is very common in nations that have strict gun laws, such as Mexico and most of the European Union. The reasoning is if you're on the lam, it's easy to ditch a gun, but harder to ditch the accessories. Most of us don't need to over think this, but be aware of this approach. As with all our information, depending on the lens with which you view this, it could be helpful spotting contraband.

  • -Urban Caches - Along with methods of carry that make it deniable that you were ever in possession of a firearm (not carrying in a holster, no spare mags, etc), criminals in strict nations often stash their guns in predetermined spots. That way, they know where their piece is, can grab it, do the deed, and either toss it or cache it again. This cuts down on the risks of being caught.

  • -Wear the right clothes - this might mean dressing in a way that you might be less comfortable, but you won't have to deal with accidentally exposing your gun. More on this below. It also means don't advertise yourself as a badass, a tough guy, or a hard case. You know what gets nailed down? That nail that sticks up. Dress normally for the area and in a way that makes you comfortable. If you can't wear it comfortably, people will notice. Intentionally downplay your capability.

  • -Be cool - this means don't start trouble and be ok with the fact you're not following the local code. Get your business done, be cool, and get out of there.

  • -Stay quiet - start thinking about your gun as if it was personal information, like your social security number. You wouldn't just strike up a conversation about it. It's private. It's no one else business, and the only person who needs to know about it is you. Keep stickers off your ride, don't wear Glock hats, and don't wear clothing brands that are synonymous with 'tactical' gear.

  • -Wire Tight - This is a big one. Don't give anyone a reason to stop you. Especially the police. Make sure your vehicle is in good condition, the tags aren't expired, and there are no citations just waiting to happen. Don't drive flashy or ostentatious cars. Stay away from unreliable beaters. Don't wear clothing that makes you stand out as wealthy and don't dress like a hood rat. People are Judgmental -as they should be- so meet their expectation of "just another person".

Getting Made (and some street smarts)

Getting made is embarrassing. The advice we give on the subject is entirely experiential, and we've made some solid errors in order to bring you the details of why you should do certain things in a certain way.

One of our contributors has been carrying since he was 16 and had an instance in which the pistol he was "Mexican carrying" (a pocket .380) slipped from his waistband and out his pant leg onto the floor of a dollar Chinese restaurant. More unforgivable than eating dollar Chinese food is carrying in ways that set you up to lose your pistol. Not only do you get made, which is embarrassing, but these kinds of rookie mistakes draw unwanted attention and could lead to arrest or criminal targeting for theft.

Carrying smart is crucial. This means no weird holsters, no funky carry positions, and knowing what works with your body type. It also means knowing how to carry pistols of various frame sizes without holsters. Mexican carry - as counter intuitive as this seems - works better with full frame pistols.

Truth is, this kinda stuff isn't all that useful 99% of the time. Especially these days when options like Raven Concealment's "Vanguard" is available. Not only do holsterless carry options damage your consistency with things like drawing, it creates a fundamental weakness when it's time for mobility. Scooter dropping his gatillo running from the cops is a common occurance. If you have the option, don't be that guy.

Gatillo = trigger, en Español, by the way. Gat for short... If you're wondering where that slang came from. While we're talking about slang, "pipe hitter" doesn't mean you hit people with pipes or that you're a special operator. To the vast majority of street culture, Pipe Hitting means smoking crack. From a crack pipe. The phrase came from Pulp Fiction where white people everywhere mistook Marcellus Wallace's calling in the "pipe hittin' niggas to go to work [torture] on the homes here" as hardcore homeboys willing to do violence... Sorta right. Pipe hitters are the guys who'll do whatever it takes for a fix. So it's ironic that some police and military call themselves "Pipe Hitters".

So back to carry methods. On the flip side of bangers and 'Mexican carry', officers often have a pretty care-free attitude about how they dress and act in public. Guys, be cautious. The tone this article takes is from the perspective of a regular person, but populist uprisings often target law enforcement as well. Have a plan for that. You might not want the local Redguards identifying you as a cop while you're out eating with your family.

Kinda undercover? Open carriyng a service pistol in a SERPA while wearing 5.11's and desert tan boots... eh. His partner does ok, but you're only as discreet as your most overt partner. Both have the short hair and athletic wear that are ubiquitous for UC officers. Definitely Pipe Hitters.

Back on topic: in addition to foolishly letting your pistol slip from your immediate control, there are other things to consider that could get you 'made':

  • -Printing - The most common place I see printing is the "good guy's" favorite position: Strong side. It doesn't matter if it's OWB or IWB (inside or outside the waistband), normal movement causes garments to hang up and outline the pistol. The guys who carry like this are usually police officers and vets, and it honestly doesn't matter a lot to them. If you're carrying legally in places that allow it, it's not for you either. But be aware that printing is impossible to hide from trained eyes.

  • -Demeanor - This spans the gamut; from how you present yourself (surly tough guy) to how you comport yourself (nervous and picking at your piece), demeanor has almost everything to do with psychological comfort. You need to just be OK with carrying your tools. Be like a Golden Retriever: Count everyone as friend. Look people in the eyes and acknowledge they're there. Don't glare.
    Do that, and people probably aren't going to be looking you over for weapons.

  • -Grooming and Style - I won't get too into the weeds with this other than to say that there are certain styles of dress and appearance that are synonymous with military and police. The high and tight haircut that says "everyone's staying past 1830." The graphic t-shirt tucked into your pants. The Wiley-X's and clean shave. The rigid posture. Combined with demeanor and printing, grooming tells us an awful lot about a person.

    If you're wearing Wiley-X sunglasses, Low top hikers with 5.11 cargo pants... 100%, you gave me a ticket last week.

Remember: you can go your whole life without anyone knowing your opinions, profession, or carry status and no one is any worse off.

Since we don't get to pick what happens or when, we have to balance that against "how fast can I get to the tools I might need? As we discussed in EDC, it's on you to determine what you need, but be sure you lay it out in a logical, low-profile way.

Security and Checkpoints

A security fence dividing Indian country from civilization. In Indian country, you risk being blown up or shot by your enemy. In civilization, women walk with an escort to prevent rape.

While most of the time this isn't a big issue in the U.S., it is worth briefly discussing. You should know the general security posture of the venue you're heading into, but sometimes you can get surprised by a sudden change. One contributor we talked to had this happen while entering a military installation.

The base's security posture had changed to accommodate a visiting VIP and at the gate, the person was randomly selected for a vehicle inspection. Knowing that environment, there are typically things that are screened and things that aren't... As this person opened the car for inspection, they asked that they approach a table and empty pockets. They did as requested and the security personnel grabbed for a metal detecting wand. They happened to be carrying without the authorization of the installation commander, which would be a major issue.

What came next required some quick thinking and interpersonal communication skills.

Not the kind of gunbro vitriol you hear, but some real chill. They started talking with the guards about celebrities they looked like, putting them at ease some.

When it came time to get the wand, knowing they are carrying appendix, they told the guards that there was a metal buckle on their belt so don't be surprised when it goes off.  They lifted their shirt just enough to reveal the buckle to the guards while covering the weapon. The guards passed over the pistol with the expectation that something would set off the metal detector, politely chatted, and let them know they were free to collect their stuff and go.

Guys - this isn't smart. It isn't something to aspire to. That person took a huge risk and it happened to work out without major consequences, but that doesn't mean it *will* work out.

When dealing with non-permissive environments and security points, please, take a minute and do the following:

  1. Assess the risk vs reward. Is it likely there will be trouble? If so, is it likely it's because you made a bad decision? Be smart. If it turns out it *is* worth the risk...

  2. Adjust your equipment to fly as few flags as possible. You don't want to be removing knives and placing them in the tray in front of guys who's job is looking for weapons. Look at other options.

  3. Establish a baseline; excuses aren't likely to work. But it's entirely plausible that you might have metal in your body for some reason. With good interpersonal skills, you can shape expectations. If you're wandering around with a Spartan Delta Sniper hat in your tactical cargo shorts and a Affliction shirt, really, don't be surprised if you come up short when it's time to pass the NPE concealment muster... and remember, it's part luck. Looking intimidating only works in a couple spaces in the Spheres of Violence. Everywhere else, it pays to be a sleeper.

  4. Don't panic. Take time to talk and establish yourself as a human. If they ask "any weapons in the vehicle?" and you say "no". Be ready to be called on your bluff. Keep in mind some checkpoints give you an opportunity to turn around. Some don't. You might be able to simply excuse yourself by saying "Excuse me, I just realized I have a blade on me and I'd like to make sure it's left in my vehicle." If not, you're going to have to pass the personality test. If you fail that, man up and take your licks.

It should go without saying that there are places that you should never risk carrying; military installations, federal buildings, airports, etc all have full time security and tend to be humorless. Remember to start with that risk vs reward metric.

Escape and Evasion Tools

A very basic assembly of tools to aid in E&E. Don't hide them all in the same spot.

This is at the bottom, but it's one of the most important aspects of dealing with the non-permissive environment.

If you find yourself in a situation where it's you versus a hostile group, shooting your way out is a an absolute last resort. If you legitimately did something wrong and ended up cuffed and processed, take your damn licks and deal with the court, but illegal detention does occur.

For this reason, consider having some tools on hand to deal with illegal restraint. While this topic is a topic unto itself, consider that you can easily shape a hair pin or safety pin into a cuff pick. Shoelaces can be used to saw through flex cuffs. Keeping a cuff key in the back where it can be reached if you're cuffed behind your back is beneficial, as is having a small razor, diamond saw, or other cutting instrument that can get you out of tape, rope, cuffs, or cable ties.

One of the contributors to this article discussed a couple instances where they were able to smuggle tools to escape confinement into secure areas. This topic goes beyond what we're comfortable sharing publicly, but suffice to say that escape and evasion is an integral part of avoiding unwarranted arrest or detention.

A final note on that: the longer you're in custody, the lower your chances are of escaping detention. Especially in foreign travel in which you may be a rich ransom target for militant or political groups, you don't want to comply on the hope that it'll turn out in your favor. History says it won't, but as discussed above: understand where you're going, who's pissed off there, and what their disposition is towards Americans. Have some idea where you'll go if things get dicey; embassies, border crossings, or known 'friendlies' who wouldn't mind hanging on to a backpack with some cash and a change of clothes, hair dye, and a razor.

More than anything, try to blend in. Make an effort to learn the local customs, language, and dress.


The Non-permissive environment can mean a variety of things depending on your Sphere of Violence. We live in a world where politics are more divisive than ever. States are going hard on limiting citizens' access to weapons, and it's not at all unreasonable to think that places like California won't start looking for guns along with your out-of-state fruit.

That's not moral, it's not consistent with our nation's charter principles and it's unreasonable. When we consider that rule of law and justice will prevail, stop for a moment and think back on the Lakota. History is rife with abuse of power. The bigger a governing body is, the more interests it frantically tries to represent and the less oversight there is to keep them in line as they do it. There are those who will say this is dangerous information, or that the tone is 'anti-government'. To that, we say "eh". It's not. We don't drink the Kool-Aid and believe that authority is bestowed only on the benevolent. To believe so is no less superstition than Zeus throwing magic lightning bolts.

Look to history if you want to understand justice.

Justice, historically, dances like a puppet and it ain't your fingers on the strings.

Think accordingly.

ISG Team


American Horse, chief, Oglala Lakota:

"There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce ... A mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing ... The women as they were fleeing with their babies were killed together, shot right through ... and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys ... came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there."

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