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Sheep, Wolf, or Sheepdog?

Many individuals seem to have a rather limited view of gun owners. We are variously depicted as "good ol' boys" -- rebel rednecks who are uneducated and for whom shooting is a cheap, macho thrill, vigilantes who believe something along the lines of "Shoot 'em all -- let God sort 'em out", or patriotic, right-wing extremists who will brook no argument over the precise meaning of each of the twenty-seven words in the second amendment. These stereotypes aren't surprising; they are the inevitable result of years of fomenting fear by gun control advocates, biased reporting by most of the media, and inaccurate portrayals of firearm use by the entertainment industry.

Well, folks, make a new category for me and my sisters. I am an armed mother. I own a variety of firearms. I have five children -- three stepsons and two toddlers -- ranging from just over 1 year old to 14 years old. I am a passionate defender of any responsible individual's right to keep and bear arms, for both ideological and practical reasons. And I am not alone.

I first began shooting simply out of curiosity -- my former father-in-law is an experienced hunter, and he wanted to share his knowledge and enjoyment of firearms with his son and me. I fell in love with his 12-gauge pump shotgun -- and became proficient with it my first afternoon of shooting. With the first recoil into my shoulder, before the booming echoes faded away, recognition of the power I commanded flooded me. It filled me with something I'd not known before: the absolute knowledge that if someone tried to mess with me, I could successfully fight him -- or them -- off. Size was no longer an insurmountable obstacle; numbers were more of a challenge but I would have a much better chance being armed. I could fight--and win!

I have since educated myself about responsible firearms use, handling, and storage, and learned how to shoot different firearms. I have also written numerous articles on RKBA topics and self-defense. While I am by no means an expert, I enjoy reading and learning more about firearms, and enjoy practicing with them. Due to my willingness to write about firearms, I've had some interesting exchanges with individuals from across the spectrum. In part as a result of that, and also from my reading in the area, I have come to view individuals as falling into one of three classes: sheep, wolf, and sheepdog.*

Sheep are, unfortunately, the most numerous group. Individuals who are horrified by guns and protest indignantly that they would never own a gun, because they could never hurt another human being are sheep. So are individuals who, for whatever reason, can't or won't be bothered to think about their own protection. Also in this group are those who believe that the government -- the police, 911, etc. -- can and will protect them, and so don't think about protecting themselves.

From the published accounts of in-flight conversations from people on the three jets that became third world cruise missiles on 9-11, slamming into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, most of the people on those jets -- and the people they contacted -- were sheep. They allowed terrorists armed with knives and box cutters to commandeer the aircraft, killing themselves and thousands more in the buildings. Based on what we currently know of those flights' last few minutes, no one made any attempt to resist the terrorists. One woman who called her husband on a cell phone asked him what they should do; sadly, he did not suggest she recruit some others to overcome the terrorists. Those poor doomed souls had been so conditioned into relying on someone else for their protection that they apparently didn't even try to mount a resistance. They died huddled into the back of the plane, like the sheep they'd become.

Wolves are the least numerous group, thankfully. Individuals who prey on others, for whatever reason, are wolves. Terrorists, rapists, thieves, and psychopathic killers are obviously wolves. So are those who derive satisfaction from the power they wield over others, whether by bullying or manipulating or deceiving. It's difficult to get a good estimate of just how many wolves there are out there, because ways of counting and defining them vary. According to the American Psychiatric Association's measures, what I'm calling wolves can be classified into three categories (it is possible for someone to belong in two or more categories): antisocial personality disorder (most common criminals); sociopaths; and psychopaths. The incidence of each of these in the population is, respectively, 4%, 3%, and 1%.

It is possible for an individual to overreact to the threat that wolves present to the rest of us, and become wolf-like. These individuals typically make statements such as, "If anybody comes after me he'll get the business end of my rifle!" or "If I'd had my gun with me that SOB would have learned a thing or two courtesy of Mr. Wesson!". They abuse the power of firearms, and become bullies -- as long as they're behind their weapon. Fortunately, this kind of "reactionary wolf" is similarly rare.

That leaves the individuals who know better than to rely on the empty promises of security the government offers, and who educate themselves and arm themselves with a variety of tools for self-protection. These individuals aren't sheep, passively waiting and hoping someone else will watch over us. Nor are they wolves, using their tools and training against those who pose no real threat to them. They are sheepdogs -- ever watchful, appraising potential problems and responding appropriately to a threat. If a wolf approaches, they bark first to warn it off. If it persists, they increase the defensive measures. If the wolf begins its attack, only then does the sheepdog unleash its most powerful weapon -- firearms -- to stop the lethal threat to its life and loved ones.

In my work for Project: Safe Skies, I have heard the objection several times that armed citizens on board a plane would overreact -- in effect, becoming those reactionary wolves I described above. Sadly, I've even heard this from individuals who describe themselves as "pro-gun". If the possibilities were limited to sheep and wolves -- prey and predators -- it is possible that someone simply saying hello to his companion while on a jet -- "Hi, Jack!" -- could get shot by a reactionary wolf with a quick trigger finger. The reality is that most gun owners are sheepdogs: prepared, alert, and thinking. Threats are assessed and dealt with an appropriate fashion, rather than drawing the gun and firing away every time.

In fact, armed citizens have a better record of successfully targeting criminals than do police officers. Sheepdogs mistakenly shoot innocent individuals in only 2% of shootings; for police the rate is 11%.(1) If you think about it, this makes sense. Civilians don't have the protections that come with the badge a cop wears. Instead, if they fire (or even show a weapon in many states) inappropriately, the civilian can face criminal and civil suits that can lead to bankruptcy, and the loss of a good reputation in the community. Because of the higher standard of accountability, many sheepdogs also work hard to maintain solid defensive skills -- often times much harder than law enforcement officers do. That training pays off in greater safety.

I have 7 excellent reasons to be armed and prepared to meet any threat that may come my way: my life and the lives of my wonderful partner and five beautiful children. As a mother, it is my responsibility to raise my children to be healthy, responsible adults. This includes protecting them from and educating them about potential dangers in the world. That's why I'm a sheepdog. My responsibility does not end when we set foot on airport property. Indeed, the events of 9-11 (another failure of government safety schemes, but I'll save that topic for another day) have demonstrated that sheepdogs are in even greater demand than ever before.

So, what are you? A sheep, a wolf, or a sheepdog?

If you don't like what you are, you can change it. Becoming a sheepdog is a matter of having the will and learning how. I'll address that topic in another essay.

*Thanks to Massad Ayoob for these labels; when I read his column in Backwoods Home Magazine it brought together a lot of my rambling thoughts on individual psychology and guns. [back to the essay]

1. George F. Will, "Are We 'A Nation of Cowards'?," Newsweek (15 November 1993). [back to the essay]

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