Civilians Gun Carriers as “Operators” and “Warriors”

Some in the firearms self-defense community talk about “civilian operators” and “civilian warriors.” Something has always struck me as not quite right about these labels. I previously wrote about and expressed some reservations with Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s idea of sheepdogs and his equation of them with civilian warriors. But I heard a reference to “civilian operators” again recently on a podcast. It continues to rub me the wrong way. Why?

Perhaps it comes down to this: what does the typical individual with a concealed handgun/weapons permit AND who carries regularly (a small fraction of those with permits) look like? What is their daily life like? What is their scope of responsibility? Is that person well-characterized by the terms “operator” or “warrior”?

To take just one example, consider a middle-aged, middle-class white guy (the core of the concealed carry nation in my experience) who each morning puts a Ruger LC9 in his Crossbreed Super Tuck inside the waistband holster, tucks in his dress shirt and throws on his suit coat, drives his European touring sedan through the suburbs to his office park and spends his day in his office looking at a computer screen. To me this guy is no more a warrior than the guys from the cubicles in “Office Space” beating down a printer with a baseball bat are gangstas.

My unease made more sense to me yesterday when I was able to spend a couple of hours at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum near Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The museum exhibits information and artifacts about the United States Army airborne and special operation units through their history and conflicts from World War II to the present. Walking through the well-done museum exhibits you learn about some of the well-known divisions like the 82d and 101st Airborne, the “Red Devils” and “Screaming Eagles.” You also get some of the hidden history of lesser-known divisions like the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion (the “Triple Nickles”), an all-black airborne unit during World War II. Seeing this, I could not help but think, these are warriors, these are operators.

Photo with "Iron Mike" at Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, NC
Photo with “Iron Mike” at Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, NC

During my visit, the museum had a special exhibit running on “The Battle of Mogidishu,” which I know something about from the movie “Black Hawk Down,” various documentaries about the incident, and the recently released DVD from Panteao Productions on “The Battle of the Black Sea.” As dramatic as those videos are, however, there is something much more immediate and moving about standing in front of artifacts from the battle. Looking at the rotor from one of the wrecked Super 61 Black Hawk helicopters (Super 61) and the tactical vest of the medic who triaged the wounded there I could not help but think, these are warriors, these are operators.

Wreckage from Super 61 (Black Hawk) helicopter recovered in Mogadishu
Wreckage from Super 61 (Black Hawk) helicopter recovered in Mogadishu
Combat medics vest from the Battle of Magadishu
Combat medics vest from the Battle of Magadishu

The museum also displayed the names of the 73 individuals who have awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for actions while they were in airborne or special operations units. Seeing these names I could not help but think, these are warriors, these are operators.

All of the men and women who live by the motto of the Army Special Forces, “De Oppresso Liber” (to liberate the oppressed); or of the Air Force Pararescue units, “These things we do that others may live”; or of the Marine Corps, “first to fight”; or of the Navy, “Non Sibi Sed Patriae” (not for self, but country); or of the Coast Guard, “Semper Paratus” (always ready) — whether they would describe themselves this way: these are warriors, these are operators.

After finishing this blog entry, Exurban Kevin of the Misfires and Light Strikes blog pointed me to a recent post on the Gun Free Zone blog, on “The Warrior Mystique and Its Non-Application to the Average Citizen,” which offers some very interesting reflections on civilian “warriors” similar to these. Check it out.


  1. Not to nitpick, as I agree in many ways with what you’re saying. Just wanted to point out that the Marine Corps’ motto is “Semper Fidelis” – Always Faithful. “First to fight” is more of a slogan for recruiting posters.


  2. Could it be that, especially when speaking of civilians, or nonprofessionals, i.e. amateurs, the terms operator and sheepdog are less about skill sets and more about mindset? While it is true that not all concealed carry permit holders have the mindset of the operator/sheepdog, perhaps that should be the goal.
    Your example is interesting in that you stop with the permit holder sitting behind a desk at the office. Given that many if not most officers never fire their weapon in the line of duty, the scenario you present could describe the average big department detective as much as a corporate office worker. Isn’t it what comes next that separates the armed or unarmed sheeple from the armed or unarmed sheepdog? What does that person in the office do when the popping sounds come from out in the hall?
    Does he or she grab a go bag to help evacuate co-workers, render first aid from a well-stocked active shooter trauma bag, or, if the situation requires it, travel to the sound of gunfire to hopefully neutralize the threat and save lives? Perhaps the sheepdogs set up barricades against doors in an effort to keep the shooter out.
    Of course, the true sheepdog or operator, amateur or professional, will not only seek to have the proper mindset, but also the equipment and skills to accomplish the task before him or her. While most of us, thankfully, will not have to respond to gunfire, anyone of us could be required to render first aid on an isolated stretch of highway where the minutes it might take first responders to arrive could mean the difference between life and death unless those present can act swiftly. And, however unlikely the need might be, the sheepdog, amateur or professional, should be prepared to use the weapon they carry, prepared as if the lives of their loved ones depended on it. That means regular, intentional training and honing of skills, ever seeking to increase proficiency in all aspects of not only armed combat, but unarmed combat as well.
    No, not all permit holders are sheepdogs, but amateurs have the option of approaching concealed carry, and every other aspect of their lives, with that mindset so that, when the time comes, they are equipped with the tools, physical and mental, to accomplish the task at hand.
    Check out for inspiration and ideas.


  3. A sociologist? Well my my, you must be qualified to judge whether a civilian can be a warrior/operator. Actually your blog is nothing more than a leftist opinion disguised as reasonable argument. You miss the point completely and, in my opinion, deliberately. Some in the firearms/self defense community speak of “civilian operators” and “civilian warriors” and in fact some civilians actually are warriors (which deals mostly with mindset) and some are operators (which is dependent on training and ability).

    In my case I claim to be a proven civilian warrior, not because I have a CPL and carry a firearm, but because I served and survived two combat tours in Vietnam. I saw friends and comrades wounded and killed and did my share of wounding and killing the enemy. After leaving the army I became an engineer (BSME, MSME, MBA) and eventually became a senior manager/Chief Engineer at one of the “Big Three”. I certainly fit your trite and condescending sterotype of the suburban white guy commuting to the office to sit behind his desk. Certainly my duties as an automotive executive did not require me to be a warrior. However, in 1987, being one of the select and politically chosen few to be judged as worthy enough to be granted a CCW, I encountered a combat situation when I entered a neighborhood dry cleaners where my 65 year old mother worked part time. I immediately heard my mom’s pleading voice coming from the back room of the cleaners. I rushed behind the counter and into the back to find a “young black male” (another stereotypical example that is worthless) straddling my mom and trying to stab her in the chest. She had hold of the knife blade in her hand, refusing to submit and complacently become another victim. You see, my mother, armed or unarmed, was also a warrior. Her attacker, seeing me rush into the back armed with a handgun, immediately jumped up and sprinted toward the back door of the cleaners. I could have shot him in the back, but I decided not to take that momentary satisfaction and avoid being imprisoned by a cock-eyed criminal justice system (“criminal justice” my favorite oxymoron). At the time of this event, I was middle-aged and upper middle class and hadn’t killed anyone in fifteen years. But even so, I was then, and am now, a warrior.

    The vast majority of people who carry a firearm do not think of themselves as warriors or operators. They simply have chosen to adopt a lifestyle that provides them with the capability to survive a violent encounter, sometimes in spite of certain physical limitations (I am 66 years old). Also in the vast majority of civilian use of armed self defense cases, the armed citizen was not exceptionally knowledgeable or proficient. But an objective review of crime statistics by an unbiased analyst shows that proficiency, while helpful in achieving a favorable outcome, is not the most important element. Having the capability to effectively resist is by far the key to surviving most criminally violent attacks.

    Finally, the use of terms like civilian warrior/operator, can certainly have a negative connotation when used by some citizens who fit more into a “wannabe” category. I have met some of these guys at various firearms training classes and in competitions (IPSC, IDPA, USPSC etc.). Some I deem to be full of hot air, but others I take seriously because of their demonstrated proficiency and dedicated mindset. Whether those individuals are warriors or wimps cannot be known unless fate sees fit to test them.


    • I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment on my blog, although I don’t understand your dismissiveness in suggesting I “deliberately” miss the point. I asked and sought to answer some specific questions: what does the typical individual with a concealed handgun/weapons permit AND who carries regularly (a small fraction of those with permits) look like? What is their daily life like? What is their scope of responsibility? Is that person well-characterized by the terms “operator” or “warrior”?

      My answer to the last question was “no.” You yourself note that “The vast majority of people who carry a firearm do not think of themselves as warriors or operators.” In your concluding paragraph, you also suggest that the term may not be appropriate for some people (“wannabes”). So, perhaps we are not as far off as you suggest.

      My reflections on this were born of my visit to the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville and reflecting on the difference between what those folks do and what the typical conceal carrier does. The difference was very stark and visceral, staring at the rotor from the Black Hawk helicopter.

      Given your background and experience, it seems you do not fit the mold of the “typical individual with a concealed handgun/weapons permit,” even though you spent part of your life sitting at a desk in an office park. Again, I don’t think we are that far apart in our opinions here.

      Last, with respect to your mother, that is an amazing story and you raise some good points in connection with it, such as the equation of “warrior” with a particular mindset and “operator” with a particular set of skills.

      I take those to be very help ways of thinking, and your comment as a helpful contribution to an open and hopefully civil dialogue about something that is obviously very important to both of us, and to our nation as a whole.

      I would be interested in your thoughts on my previous post on Dave Grossman and sheepdogs, if you have any.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.