The Broadened Duty to Protect Strangers and Jennifer Carlson’s Citizen-Protector Model

I have mentioned the work of sociologist Jennifer Carlson many times before (here and here), including noting with excitement that her book on gun carrying was published recently.

Carlson Citizen Protectors Cover

I am not going to summarize the book here because I want people to buy it and read it. Instead, I will use various ideas in the book as a basis for reflection. Here I want to reflect some on the issue of what she calls the “citizen-protector.”

Carlson argues that “the everyday practice of gun carry sustains a model of citizenship—the citizen-protector—that celebrates the protection of self and others as an everyday civic duty. . . . This is a particular kind of citizen who is willing to take (criminal) life in order to save (innocent) life” (pp. 19-20). Citizen-protectors see this not as a pragmatic choice made out of necessity (e.g., “I carry a gun because I can’t carry a cop”). They see it as a “moral duty” (p. 20).

Although she is careful to note that her study is based in metro Detroit and the surrounding areas, she highlights how the citizen-protector provides a generalized model for bringing together individual rights and collective duties under a particular definition of citizenship. In the case of the citizen-protector, it is the individual right to carry firearms for self-defense and the collective duty to promote social order (p. 21).

The slippage from the right of self-defense to the duty to protect others is the subject of Chapter 4 of the book. It is common for those who advocate armed citizenship to highlight “the defense of self and others,” and the Nebraska state constitution even includes language about “the right to keep and bear arms for security or defense of self, family, home, and others.” But most times the “others” referred to are friends and neighbors – individuals close to the citizen-protector. Carlson, however, highlights a broadened duty to protect that for some includes strangers (pp. 105-10).

When I first read Carlson’s work on this broadened duty to protect, I questioned the idea. In my experience of Gun Culture 2.0, thought leaders strongly cautioned against armed citizens intervening in situations that did not involve themselves or their loved ones. I saw this, for example, on a posted in classroom at Rangemaster in Memphis, Tennessee when I attended the 2014 Tactical Conference there.


Similarly, the concealed carry classes I sit in routinely highlight the danger of intervening in situations that do not directly involve you. Cautionary tales abound about seeing a plain clothes police officer taking down a perp and thinking the person being taken down is a victim. NOT getting involved is a consistent theme of Michael Bane’s TV show “The Best Defense” and also Tom Gresham’s “First Person Defender.” The bottom line in the argument against a broadened duty to protect is: “Don’t be a hero.”

But recently I have seen some news stories about individuals who have taken up arms in defense of strangers and who have been held up as heroes. Like the April 2015 story of the concealed carrier in a Little Rock, Arkansas grocery store parking lot who drew his gun in defense of an older man who appeared to be getting attacked by a group of younger men. Turns out the victim was the uncle of one of the perps and did not press charges, but the armed citizen maintained: “If you see a crime happening and you see someone getting injured and you have the ability to stop it, you should.”

little rock kroger ccw

These armed citizen-protectors are often referred to as “Good Samaritans.” Like the April 2015 concealed carrier at a car wash in Smyrna, Georgia who shot a carjacker in his shoulder as he tried to drive off with the car’s owner on the hood.

smyrna car wash dgu

And older but still telling story comes from 2014 and the parking lot of a Petsmart in Largo, Florida. After buying some fish food a gun carrier hear yelling form a nearby bench and saw a man with another man on the ground. He drew his gun and phoned the police, for which he was called a “Good Samaritan.” He later told the media,

When seconds count, the police are only minutes away. If I did not act there is a good chance that the victim could be dead today.

Carlson does make clear that this broadened notion of the duty to protect strangers is not universal for the citizen-protector. But that she recognized it when I didn’t see it all around me is to her credit. And another reason to read the book!


  1. With the massive expansion of lawful concealed carry, citizen intervention in the defense of others is bound to increase. Our culture honors those who intervene, Good Samaritan laws reflect this place of honor. Such laws must inevitably extend such honor – with laws to protect the armed Good Samaritan.


  2. And yet, Andrew Branca makes clear in his class that there are two types of legal ramifications to ‘protecting’ someone else: in some states, the law says you’re (legally) in the position of “Alter Ego” — you must make the **exactly correct** decisions that the ‘apparent’ victim has a legal right to make. So, if you turn a corner and act to “protect” a woman being assaulted by two men, and she turns out to be a drug dealer being arrested by two undercover cops — YOU are going to be charged with assaulting an officer x2! (No “reasonable belief” allowed!) In the other type of state law, you get the same legal right to claim “defense of other” as the person you acted to “protect” has to claim self-defense. That means, if the person you try to protect was the aggressor (started the altercation), YOU do not have any right to claim defense — because you “become” the first aggressor legally. If the person you acted to “protect” actually provoked the other to attack, there is (as I understand and remember from Branca’s class just a week ago), there is not a state in the Union that allows you to claim self-defense/defense of other. Provocation ALWAYS removes the right to claim self-defense…

    It’s not (anywhere close to) as easy as: “I have a gun, I will protect the people around me.”


  3. I will jot use my guns to protect a stranger in any way shape or form. My reason simple. I just dont care about anyone who is not my family. If you want protection then buy ur own gun. My guns and ammo are for me and my loved once. Simple as that.


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