Lt. Col. Dave Grossman on Sheepdogs and Violence

As the firefighter knows fire, we must know violence. The firefighter fights fire, but seldom uses fire. If we have to fight violence, what are we going to fight it with? Superior violence. If you choose to carry a gun, then you’ve chosen to immerse yourself in the realm of violence. Violence is what we do, violence is who we are, violence is what we fight. We must embrace that realm of violence or it will destroy us.

This is a remarkable statement to me, a remarkable sentiment. To comprehend it, not to mention to embrace it and live it out as one’s life ethic, requires a paradigm shift that in some ways runs counter to the history of declining violence in social life that Stephen Pinker documents in The Better Angels of Our Nature.

The statement comes from Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in a videorecording of his “Bulletproof Mind” seminar. The 5-disc DVD box set was produced and is marketed in conjunction with the United States Concealed Carry Association, which describes it as the “most comprehensive mental training to help you survive a deadly encounter.”

LTC Grossman is retired from the U.S. Army and has made a name for himself since then as an expert in what he has dubbed “killology” – the scientific study of killing. His 1995 book, On Killing, examined the physiological processes involved in – particularly the aversion to – killing another human being. On Combat, published in 2004, builds on his earlier work and seeks not only to understand the psychology and physiology of lethal violence, but to help people enact and survive it. On Combat develops themes presented in the “Bulletproof Mind” seminar.

The “we” in Grossman’s statement above – violence is what we do, who we are, and what we fight – is a very small and specific group of individuals in American society. It is what Grossman has famously called the “sheepdogs.”

“If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. 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.”

Although many in the gun training community are dismissive of sheep – sometimes derisively called “sheeple” – Grossman makes clear that he means “nothing negative by calling them sheep.” Indeed, someone who does not have capacity for violence, he says, is a healthy productive citizen. In the “Bulletproof Mind” seminar, Grossman estimates that 98 percent of the population is sheep.

Of those capable of violence, one percent are wolves and one percent are sheepdogs. What is interesting with respect to the concealed carry movement is that Grossman’s initial focus on military and law enforcement is expanding out to other “warriors.” For Grossman, being a sheepdog is a choice – “a conscious, moral decision” – not a gift of birth. He notes that more people are making that choice, and the “Bulletproof Mind” seminar and DVD is clearly being marketed to all armed citizens as potential warriors.

Photo posted on forum

Indeed, the concept of the “sheepdog” has become so diffused through the firearm self-defense community that even in a first shots class I attended at a local gun shop/range – a class designed for people new to guns – the instructor used the sheep-wolves-sheepdogs analogy.

Massad Ayoob also used the analogy in the MAG-40 (Armed Citizens’ Rules of Engagement) class I attended, though he did allow that if you cannot be a sheepdog you could perhaps be a lamb with a .38 special.

But there is an important difference between military and law enforcement and armed citizens. The sheepdog is responsible for the flock; the citizen armed for self-defense is responsible only for him or herself and those in her or his immediate sphere of responsibility. There are a lot of things that can go wrong when a private armed citizen becomes a sheepdog and seeks to protect other citizens. This is one reason Tom Givens at Rangemaster posts a sign in his classroom that reads (in part): “Any use of force in defense of a third party subjects you to physical and financial risks.”

rangemaster signThis contrasts quite considerably with LTC Dave Grossman’s view. In the final moments of his 5 hour seminar, Grossman concludes: “All this research revolves around one word. . . What is the opposite of fear? What quenches fear, as water quenches fire? LOVE.” Of course we all recognize that animal parents – including homo sapiens – will often die to save their offspring . But for Grossman the sheepdog is different than other animals. “The sheep will die to save their loved ones. Only the sheepdog loves enough to die for other people’s loved ones.” So, he says, “If you choose to carry a gun, I hope that you can do it out of love” for your fellow citizens.

I am an armed American citizen, endowed by my creator with certain inalienable rights, empowered by my constitution with the right to keep and bear arms, inspired by my ancestors and forefathers to fight for all that is dear and precious and good. I am an armed American citizen and this is as far as the bastards are going. And as you do that, for the rest of your lives, may God bless you, your family, your every endeavor. May God bless America.


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