Dave Grossman is fascinated by the individual’s ability to take another life. Or lack thereof. The retired Lieutenant Colonel’s book On Combat divides citizens into three main groups: those oblivious to the danger of violence, the predators who attack them, and the citizens prepared to counter predation. Click here to read his now famous chapter “On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs.” So, which one are you? Or is that an obvious question . . .
Risk of Being a Victim
Despite the gun slinger mystique projected upon us by gun control advocates, most concealed carry license holders view a firearm as the last thing they’d want to use in a defensive situation. They’ve made the decision to carry our weapon “just in case.” And yet very few of us have been or ever will be the victim of violent crime. Grossman appreciates the paradox.
We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.
Unlike many dismissive gun gurus, Grossman doesn’t call the vast majority of society sheep pejoratively. He understands the value of citizens who respect the law to the point where they’re oblivious to its transgressors. Sheep are productive members of society whose very existence helps maintain social stability.
In short, Grossman doesn’t criticize the decision to live life as a sheep. Much.
If you want to be a sheep, then you can be a sheep and that is okay, but you must understand the price you pay. When the wolf comes, you and your loved ones are going to die if there is not a sheepdog there to protect you. If you want to be a wolf, you can be one, but the sheepdogs are going to hunt you down and you will never have rest, safety, trust or love.
According to Grossman, if you decide to live life as a sheep, you’re living in denial.
It is denial that turns people into sheep. Sheep are psychologically destroyed by combat because their only defense is denial, which is counterproductive and destructive, resulting in fear, helplessness and horror when the wolf shows up.
Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: you didn’t bring your gun, you didn’t train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy. Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by your fear, helplessness and horror at your moment of truth.
As described above, society also contains wolves. People who do not respect the law. The view it with distant derision. They have no compunctions about harming other to achieve their inherently selfish desires and unrestrained impulses. Some percentage of the sheep, however small, are susceptible to these wolves’ violence. Grossman asks,
Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.
Assuming you drive a car, you’ve accepted the risk of an accident whenever you pull out of your driveway. You purchase insurance to protects you against the exorbitant costs of repairs or treatment. Having car insurance does not make you a “car loon” or paranoid. You’re not “looking for an accident” or “an accident waiting to happen.” Your policy is a normal part of risk management. Many states require it.
Are citizens who carry self-defense guns really that different? Yes and no. On one hand, the number of law-abiding citizens who carry a gun in America is statistically insignificant. Even in the most gun-o-centric states, the percentage of people with concealed carry weapons licenses who actually carry never crests single digits. In some states, it’s as low as one percent.
Other than a decision to engage in wolf risk management, what sets us apart? Are those of us who choose to arm ourselves violent people? Grossman says yes/no . . .
But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.
From his keyboard to God’s ears. Theoretical invincibility aside, “sheepdogs” don’t want to be violent. They simply realize that there may be a time when they need to “flip the switch” from passive to aggressive. They’re ready, willing and able to respond to wolves with speed, surprise, and violence of action—until there is no longer a threat to their lives or to the lives of others.
Grossman understands that this sheepdog-i-tude comes at a personal cost.
But if you want to be a sheepdog and walk the warrior’s path, then you must make a conscious and moral decision every day to dedicate, equip and prepare yourself to thrive in that toxic, corrosive moment when the wolf comes knocking at the door.
Some people are profoundly opposed to the idea of citizen sheepdogs. They believe that sheepdogs are inherently susceptible to rabies; they’ll go mad, cross the line and become wolves. If it happens once, they shout “aha!” and call for all sheepdogs to be muzzled and de-clawed. They believe sheepdogs should be selected, trained and controlled by the state.
There’s considerable evidence that society’s division into sheep, wolves and sheepdogs is both evolutionary and genetic. Some people become sheepdogs after a traumatic incident, but most concealed carry weapons license holders are literally born to the job. They like it because they’re good at it. They’re good at it because they like it.
The environment plays a central role in determining the mix. As America is a relatively safe country, the need for sheepdogs is correspondingly low. If crime—or the fear of crime—rises, the number of sheepdogs will increase. But any suggestion that society can render the citizen sheepdog’s role irrelevant is deeply misguided.
As Grossman says, evil will always be out there, somewhere. As any biologist will tell you, the relative number of white blood cells does not reflect their importance.
On Being a Sheepdog
Grossman cautions that no one can—or should—be constantly “on guard.” But he also urges sheepdogs to embrace their inner canine.
No one can be “on” 24/7, for a lifetime. Everyone needs down time. But if you are authorized to carry a weapon, and you walk outside without it, just take a deep breath, and say this to yourself…“Baa.”
If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re a sheepdog. A larger percentage of our readers carry than the general population. If you’ve made the decision to carry, CARRY. Practice. The life you save may be your own. Or your loved ones. Or innocent bystanders. Or society itself.