Concealed Carry Answers: What is Color Code?

Concealed Carry Answers: What is Color Code?

Color Code system for situational awareness in concealed carry.

Reader Jack M. writes:

In some of the gun magazines I see references to the “color code”… what is that?

Hey Jack, the “color code” is a great awareness tool used by street-wise cops that can help you be alert to threats and match force with the threat appropriately.  Giving credit where it is due, the color code of awareness was originally developed by USMC Colonel Jeff Cooper (a giant in the field of defensive pistolcraft and a fascinating worldly philosopher. Well worth an on-line search).

Concealed Carry Color Code

My paraphrase (and some modernization) of Cooper’s color code goes like this:

WHITE…  Vacant.   (No gun.)
Not-a-clue. Oblivious to environmental cues.  Eyes on electronic device.  “I want to be a victim” printed on forehead.

YELLOW…  Relaxed awareness.   (Gun in holster or safe but accessible in the closet.)
Where are the exits?   Is anybody standing by my car?   Any weird vibes?   Occupied cars parked on the street?

ORANGE… Possible threat.   (Hand on gun.)
What are those guys in baggy pants up to?    Why is that guy watching us?   What was that noise in the garage?

RED…  Specific threat.   (Gun out… Verbal commands… “Stop or I will shoot!”… FIRE!)
They are rushing us.   That guy looks amped on drugs and has a knife.   That noise was breaking glass.

BLACK… Total sensory overload causing paralysis.   (You’re stomped or dead.)
It is impossible to continually operate in orange because it is so stressful, but it’s risky to operate in white especially if you have dependent persons to protect.  The warrior mind-set is the color yellow relaxed awareness. From yellow you can instantly skip a step and go to action if you have to.  If you are a civilian (without a sworn duty to law enforcement) in orange and you can tactically employ the “Nike defense” (run like hell) do it!

Clearly, you want to avoid areas and situations that are prone to orange.

Listen to what your gut instincts are telling you.   It’s especially important when you are in public to get your eyes up and off your gizmo.  Smart phone thefts are at epidemic levels and if you resist the grab you are going to get hurt.

Most crime victims go directly from code white to black and offer no resistance at all (which is why the bad boys troll for people in white).

Stay sharp out there and thanks for the great question.

Remember, this is not legal advice (know your laws), every lethal encounter is different and everybody has different needs and capacities.


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  1. You are quite correct to caution me about the appearance of racism in the “baggy pants” illustration and I appreciate the constructive criticism. Twenty seven years a cop taught me that to survive you have to be able to be sensitive to modes of dress and associated behavior patterns that are often (but not always) associated with increased risk. What we must never do (cops or civilians) is take lethal action based on those associations alone. Let me give you an example. While off duty if I was walking down the street and coming my way were four big guys in baggy clothes with their hands in their pockets and across the street were four nuns also coming my way, I would cross the street and say “Good evening. ladies” to the nuns.

  2. Actually I prefer to use the Air Force’s DEFCON system for home defense and concealed carry, where 5 is the lowest and 1 is the highest. It also has a color code system and exercise terms for identification purposes. When an event occurs that warrants and up-leveling of DEFCON, it stays that way for 6 months before its re-evaluated. As an example, I have been fortunate enough to live in a very safe community for over 15 years where bad things rarely happen. As a result, I’ve been in DEFCON 5 for a long time. Recently however there was a break-in that occurred and I’ve upped my status to DEFCON 3. I’ve changed “Round House” to “Around the House”. I’m hoping that I don’t ever have to go to “Cocked Pistol” (DEFCON 1) The color code is interesting to know though. It would have been great to have made the two compatible. Thanks

    • Thanks for a great article! I learned a lot & had never heard of the Color Code before.
      The only constructive criticism I would make is, in explaining color Orange you write, “What are those guys in baggy pants upto?”. While it doesn’t bother me personally, I believe most people associate “Baggy pants”, (despite being worn by all types of people), with a certain ethnic group. At a time when gun owners are having their rights attacked from all sides, I don’t think we want the term “Racist” added to the list, though I’m sure it already has been. But, I think we should try & be overly careful to not give the Anti-2A’ers anymore ammunition (pun intended).
      You’ve written a lot of great articles & I enjoy reading them as they as very informative. Please keep writing & keep up the great work! Thanks!

    • What a great comment. I am familiar with DEFCON from the movies and I think it can be well-integrated with the color code. If DEFCON 4 is also “relaxed awareness” then it correlates perfectly with operating in “condition yellow”. I play a little game in airports, restaurants and malls trying to identify guys in “relaxed awareness” by looking at their body language and especially their eyes. When you see them regularly scan their surroundings it is a good sign they are going through life with their brains engaged. Thanks for your input.


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