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Armed vs. Unarmed Security

In considering your options for security guard service for your property or place of business, you will be met with an important question: Armed or Unarmed? While you may be tempted to default to unarmed, this will not always be the most appropriate choice. Additionally, you will be excluding from consideration many top guards (e.g. former and current police and military) who only work armed positions. Of course, unarmed guards are not only appropriate in some circumstances, but may be legally required (e.g. a prison or government facility). Read on to find out the differences, as well as pros and cons, of both armed and unarmed security guard service, as well as a third option that you may not have considered.


Armed guards carry and are legally licensed to use deadly weapons in the course of their duties as a security guard. Such weapons include handguns, rifles, and shotguns (and sometimes knives). While they do not possess any additional authority above an unarmed guard (or indeed, above a private citizen) they are legally permitted to employ deadly force in protection of their own lives or the lives of innocent third parties. For instance, if you hired an armed guard for your convenience store and a robber entered the store, pointed a gun at the man behind the counter, and demanded he empty the register drawer, the guard would be legally permitted to use deadly force against the robber to protect the cashier, even though the guard may not have been personally threatened by the robber.

As the above example illustrates, armed guards are best suited to medium to high-risk properties based on type of business, location, and history of previous security incidents. Examples of properties where armed guards are typically the most appropriate choice for security include gas stations, convenience stores, apartment complexes in high crime neighborhoods, banks, warehouses containing high-value merchandise, jewelry stores, vape shops, and any business that operates late at night or overnight (e.g. diners, bars, clubs, 24 hour retail stores, etc.).

Of course, as mentioned in the introduction to this article, armed guards are not always appropriate and may not be permitted depending on the nature of the property to be protected. For instance, virtually all prisons in the United States prohibit anyone (even police) from carrying a firearm while inside the prison due to the possibility of the weapon being taken from and used against the carrier. Further, many government buildings and hospitals prohibit security from being armed. Obviously, if you are seeking to hire security for these types of facilities, unarmed will be not only the best, but your only choice!


The term “unarmed” to describe a security guard is not as clearcut as it may seem. To some people, unarmed means simply a guard who doesn’t carry a gun. To others, it means a guard who doesn’t carry ANY weapon whatsoever, even nonlethal tools such as OC spray, batons, or tasers. Due to this possibility for confusion, at CERBERUS, we make sure to ascertain exactly what you’re looking for in an unarmed guard before we dispatch one to your property.

Unarmed guards are best suited to low-risk properties where the likelihood of a violent incident is low, and to properties that prohibit private security from being armed (e.g. prisons, courthouses, hospitals). Despite not being armed with a deadly weapon, a uniformed, professional, and well-groomed security guard can often nevertheless deter unwanted behaviors from potentially problematic persons. Indeed, think of your reaction to seeing a marked highway patrol vehicle on the side of the road while driving – whether or not you were speeding to begin with, you almost certainly slow down! By the same token, the visual presence of a uniformed guard, whether armed or unarmed, is a crime deterrent in and of itself.

Despite the common perception of unarmed security as the “default” choice, there are many cases, as mentioned above, where unarmed security is inappropriate. Placing an unarmed guard in a high-risk environment is not only ineffective from an operational standpoint, but irresponsible (both to the guard and to the people the guard is expected to protect) from a moral and ethical standpoint. That’s why we do not provide unarmed guards for client sites that we deem to be high-risk. It’s also why we don’t charge more for armed guards than for unarmed. Our commitment to each client is to provide them with type of security that is most appropriate to them, not to “upsell” them on armed service or provide unarmed service at a “discount.” When you partner with us, you can rest assured that you are receiving a security service custom tailored to the unique needs of your business, be it armed or unarmed security.

A Third Option…

Since we started doing business, we have noticed that many clients who would be best served by an armed guard service hesitate to hire one not because of cost (we don’t charge more for armed security) or liability concerns (as an independent contractor we bear all legal liability for the conduct of our guards), but because of the “intimidation factor.” That is, some public facing clients (retail stores, hotels, apartment buildings, etc.) are concerned about the psychological effect an armed guard might have on their customers, guests, or residents. If you share this concern about hiring armed security for your property or place of business, but still want the additional protection and peace of mind that an armed guard provides, we recommend a third option between traditional armed and unarmed security: covertly armed security.

A covertly armed guard will be armed with a deadly weapon for the protection of your property and customers but the weapon will not be visible to any casual observer. The guard may be dressed in a uniform, professionally (suit and tie), or in plain clothes (all per the client’s preference), but his weapon will be fully concealed on his person at all times, avoiding any fear the appearance of a firearm might cause for your clients, guests, or employees. We have found this to be a popular option for clients in the retail and hospitality industry in particular, but we offer this option to any client at their request.


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