Sheepdogs and the Citizen-Protector’s Broadened Duty to Protect

A reader of my previous post on Jennifer Carlson’s work on “citizen-protectors” wrote: “Of the millions of people who ‘carry’ I wonder how many of them think of themselves as the sheepdogs. In the ’60s when I was growing up we heard the term ‘ego trip’. Perhaps I should have said how many people who carry are on an ego trip thinking they are going to protect the helpless sheep with their magical GUN (a delusion?). I really do not know how big the number is. That sounds like an area for more research if it is possible to do it. Another part of this is if someone who carries is planning to be the protector of anyone who is not a part of his/her immediate flock. Finally, how does the idea of being a vigilante fit in with the citizen-protector idea? I cannot remember if Carlson talked about that or not.”

These are good and valid questions, and I have three responses (two of which I will cover in this post, in one in a subsequent post):

(1) SHEEPDOGS: How many average gun carriers consider themselves sheepdogs? Not many, I don’t think. I have written previously on Dave Grossman’s understanding of sheepdogs, and he makes clear that he believes 98% of the population are sheep, 1% are wolves, and only 1% are sheepdogs.

Although she only makes reference to sheepdogs once, Carlson may still overplay the “broadened ‘duty to protect’” (p. 107) side of the gun carry equation which she equates with being a sheepdog. Which brings me to my second point.

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(2) BROADENED DUTY TO PROTECT: Carlson discusses this in chapter 4 of her book. Although the right to self-defense is central to the justification of concealed carry, citizen-protectors do not only see themselves as responsible for defending themselves: “they actually saw their guns as a way to claim their right to self-protection and as representing a duty to protect others” (p. 96).

The duty to protect, for some, is also expanded to a duty to protect strangers, indeed, any innocent and vulnerable life: “they believed they had a right to intervene and protect others, including strangers, even if they chose not to. Sanctioned to protect and police their communities, gun carriers saw themselves as capable of a civic duty much broader than protecting self or family” (p. 106).

I have written previously about Carlson’s idea of the broadened duty to protect. I initially questioned the idea, based on my own experiences in Gun Culture 2.0, but came to see a number of instances of gun carriers exercising this duty. So, the broadened duty to protect is really felt by some. How many? Nobody knows for sure, but to the extent that the citizen-protector is a cultural model of citizenship for a growing number of gun carriers, the number is surely growing. So, Carlson may be examining a leading edge of the movement.

little rock kroger ccw

Which is a natural point of transition to the third point: the slippage from legitimately protecting others to vigilantism. I will take this up in my next post, since Carlson dedicates an entire chapter of her book to the issue.


  1. Oh boy, there’s more than a can of worms opened up here, there’s a whole oil drum of the little critters to deal with…
    I am not a fan of the term “sheepdog”, as a sheepdog is under the shepherd’s control, who reports to the owner of the flock. An owner who, by the way, looks to the sheep as property to either be shorn or turned into mutton.
    Not an optimal outcome for the sheep.
    It’s a quick and easy metaphor, but it also implies that the sheepdog’s sole purpose is to protect the entire flock, and not one family. I don’t give a… flock 🙂 about the rest of the herd: I’m in this to protect what’s dear to me, not prowl the streets at night like an Uncaped Crusader, looking for wrongs to make right.
    Also, the difference between a sheepdog and a wolf is breeding and acclimatization to man, and obviously, a sheepdog is not an actual sheep (duh) but rather it implies a protector who is not part of the flock and never will be.
    I’m not a sheepdog. At best, I’m a ram with sharp horns and a bad attitude.


    • Great additional cautionary notes on the use of the “sheepdog” metaphor.

      Most of the people I have met who are deeply into self-defense oriented gun culture draw their circle of protection much smaller than the people Carlson interviewed. Which is why I was dubious of her findings at first. But then I see evidence all around me of the “broadened duty to protect” she speaks of, sometimes for good and sometimes not.


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