Armed or Unarmed Security?

One of the more common misguided notions I encounter regarding security is that there’s no such thing as unarmed security—that security, by definition, must be armed.

A recent example of this was expressed in the article Guns Or No Guns At Synagogue?

Make no mistake: unarmed personnel are not security guards. They can be referred to as greeters or safety officers but we have to be honest about their capability. They often cannot be relied upon to perform a security function, so we shouldn’t mislead people with how we refer to them.

I have a few things to say a few things about this.

The only real advantage an armed officer has over an unarmed one is that the armed officer has an armed response capability (and if the weapon is exposed rather than concealed, there’s also an added visual deterrent). But to state that unarmed security officers aren’t really security officers is to claim that what defines a security officer is the ability to shoot people. That would be like claiming that a firefighter isn’t a real firefighter unless they have a fire-hose in their hands, or that a soldier isn’t a real soldier unless they’re behind a heavy machine-gun or in a tank.

This is obviously, factually incorrect because it ignores all the preventive and reactive capabilities that unarmed officers have and use on a daily basis. These include: deterrence by appearance, early detection of hostile planning, engagement of suspicious activity, contact with law enforcement, perimeter checks and patrols, access control, notification of emergencies, evacuation assistance, first aid assistance, customer service and much more.

The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of security officers are unarmed. This applies to facility and campus security, houses of worship security, corporate security, event security, travel security, executive protection, covert protection and more. So, this, by itself, disproves the claim that there’s no such thing as unarmed security.

I’m not at all against armed security. On the contrary, our company provides a good amount of it and I recommend it quite often. And demand for armed security has been rising for some time now. Also, for the most part, armed officers can perform everything that unarmed officers can, just with an added reactive capability if need be. And because adding this capability doesn’t usually take away from the other capabilities, I feel very comfortable recommending it.

But it’s important to understand what armed security is and what it isn’t—and to set the client’s expectations accordingly. No, you should not expect an unarmed security officer to shoot back at an armed attacker. But you should expect them to still fulfill the dozens of other security functions they perform on a daily basis, i.e. everything except shooting at an armed attacker.

Yes, there’s a lot of anxiety about active shooters lately, but let’s not go overboard and misrepresent the entire security industry by claiming that if you can’t shoot an attacker, you’re not a security officer. And this is where we should address the issue that many people judge security on an emotional rather than a logical level.  

Things get tricky because the term Security means different things to different people. Security professionals often describe it as the physical protection of assets through risk management (prevention) and threat mitigation (reaction). But for non-security professionals, security is more of a subjective feeling.

One of the advantages of the Hebrew language is that we have two different (albeit related) words to describe the above aspects. Avtacha (אבטחה) refers to physical protective measures, while Bitachon (ביטחון) often refers to the subjective feeling of security. Since English only has one umbrella term for both of these, people can often conflate and confuse things as they argue past each other about security.

Either way, one thing I recommend that people avoid when trying to figure out whether to employ armed or unarmed security is using oversimplified slogans and catchphrases like:

The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!
Well, except for all the bad guys with guns that ended up being stopped by good people without guns, or better yet, prevented from ever showing up with a gun in the first place. If you’re going to make strongly stated factual claims about the “only” way something can be stopped, you’d better bring some equally strong evidence to support it.

Another annoying one is:

It’s better to have and not need than to need and not have.
It may sound good but it’s a meaningless statement. You can literally apply it to anything in order to add pseudo-justification for it. It’s just a circular argument. Most people use it for justifying armed rather than unarmed security. But it makes just as much sense when applied to bulletproof vests, armored vehicles, hand grenades, tanks, attack helicopters, nuclear ICBMs, billion-dollar budgets, quadruple redundancy plans or anything else. This isn’t a logical way to construct a policy or to decide on an adequate course of action.

Again, I’m not trying to discourage the employment of armed security (I work for a company that provides quite a bit of it). All I’m trying to do is better inform people on what armed security is and what it isn’t.

For those who are interested in learning a bit more about the types of preventive security that can also be provided by unarmed officers, please check out this article about the hostile planning process that precedes attacks, this one about proactive preventive security and this one about preventive outer circle security.

Protection Circle_avater_due i Ikon

Learn more about this subject—and many others—in my master class on Hostile Activity Prevention
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3 thoughts on “Armed or Unarmed Security?

  1. Ami, just spent a wasted few moments trying to reason with a younger and obviously less experienced gentleman who thought all of us were out of our minds to even discuss private security without a weapon. Great to see you put this out and couldn’t agree more. I’ve spent 30 years in this career field and there are a great many facets to it that the younger, newer crowd needs to be brought up to speed on-Spot on, Brother!

    Chris Grow

  2. Another great article Ami. I’ve worked in corporate CP in the UK for over 20 years, we’re never armed.
    That obviously suggests a few challenges to those who are used to being armed, however it just means we have to work with what we’ve got, and we do it very successfully indeed.

    I know a number of guys who carry in other countries and there’s a certain reliance on firearms in their planning and execution of their work – “threats know we’re armed so think twice about acting, if there’s a problem I can easily de-escalate by showing I’m armed, and if it all goes wrong I can shoot the threat”

    That mindset and reliance on a firearm to ‘fix things’ detracts from the other areas of the role, areas WE have to focus on, such as simply planning to avoid trouble in the first place – we consider that having to directly engage a threat, using whatever tool we have, we’ve already failed because the threat should have never gotten that close.
    Surveillance Detection, low-profile protection and slick transportation that removes opportunity as the threat doesn’t even know we’ve been and gone again, disruptive measures, perimeter hardening and early intrusion detection etc
    Keep the threat away and a gun becomes redundant

    It’s hard work but there’s a real value-add for the Principal too because their day runs smoothly, is very well planned, and they maximise their time doing what they’re supposed to be doing, running their empire. Security becomes something that enables and that makes budget discussions so much easier too.


  3. I was arm all the time working security for 20 years never pulled my gun or needed but I did have if needed Good article

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