Becoming the Civilian Defender

Although it was published earlier this year, I recently came across an interesting post on Dr. Sherman House’s “Revolver Science” blog called Becoming the Civilian Defender.

Revolver Science

“Civilian defender” is House’s term for the regular people who take responsibility for their self-defense along the lines of tactical trainer Patrick McNamara’s “Sentinel” or sociologist Jennifer Carlson’s “citizen-protector.” His blog post outlines a curriculum of sorts that will help “regular folks” become better civilian defenders. The post is quite extensive and specific, so I will just touch on the main points here.

First, House describes his vision of the civilian defender this way:

I’m NOT advocating that THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER learn any of these skills to replace the kind of help that our standing army, fire departments, police departments or emergency medical staff provide to our society…quite the contrary.  I’m advocating that THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER educates themselves to the end of being able to survive situations they may encounter, when the aforementioned public servants won’t or cannot be there to swoop down and save them from whatever perils they encounter. THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER’S job is to…PROTECT!  Protect themselves from bodily harm, protect their family from bodily harm, and protect their livelihood and quality of life, from the forces of evil, gravity, accidents, or whatever pitfalls that life throws in the way.

The distinction he makes between the proactive nature of soldiers and sworn LEOs and the reactive nature of civilian defenders is important, and needs to be kept in mind so the civilian defender or citizen-protector does not become a civilian or citizen vigilante.

Second, House constructs his curriculum based on Massad Ayoob’s longstanding enumeration of four priorities for surviving violent encounters.

  1. Mental Awareness and Mental Preparedness
  2. Tactics
  3. Skill
  4. Equipment

These priorities can be found, for example, in Ayoob’s 2011 book Combat Shooting.


Significantly, Combat Shooting begins not with a chapter on how to shoot or what gun to use but with a chapter on “Mindset.” And the opening chapter begins with the observation of John Steinbeck in his posthumously published book, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976): “The final weapon is the brain, all else is supplementary.” This sentiment was popularized in the gun culture by Jeff Cooper who said, “Your mindset is your primary weapon.”

House’s specific curriculum reflects this emphasis. Without revealing the details — you should read the original post — House’s “undergraduate education” for the civilian defender proceeds as follows:

  1. Criminology/Street Smarts/Physical Preparedness
  2. Defensive Driving
  3. Emergency Medical
  4. Legal Preparation, Aftermath and Rules of Engagement
  5. Less Lethal skills
  6. Handgun Carry Course
  7. Handgun Skills and Tactics Course
  8. Defensive Tactics

My own education thus far has focused on 1, 4, 6, and 7, so I have a ways to go in this curriculum. For now, I agree with House (via Ayoob via Cooper) that my mindset has made me safer — or better able to navigate worldly dangers — than any firearm alone could.


  1. David: All these self-defense books come right out of the Jeff cooper stable, and the only difference between what any of them say and what Cooper said forty years ago is some nuances either to make themselves appear different or updated because of new technologies. And the cornerstone of Cooper’s work was the idea that danger lurks just around the corner, that we are surrounded by predators and that ultimately our survival is based on our personal ability to protect ourselves. And Cooper was clever enough to realize that there is a nice market for that kind of nonsense, it’s the same market that buys the freeze-dried food for the bunker that is advertised on the Glenn Beck show, okay? And every ten years or so we get a new version of it, whether it’s Ayoob, or that concealed-carry scam internet group that you evidently belong to, etc.

    The National Institute of Justice just released a report which shows that homicide went up in 2015 only because of an alarming increase in homicide in certain inner-city ghetto neighborhoods. And if you don’t live in one of those neighborhoods, and none of these citizen-protectors live in such neighborhoods, by the way, your odds of being confronted by someone against whom the only response is an armed response, are about the same as the odds that if you wait for the light to turn green and then step off the curb, someone will still go through the intersection and run you over.

    After the Boston marathon bombing, a study was done by the emergency department at Boston Medical Center, which is the city’s #1 trauma center and handled most of the victims wounded in that attack. And what they discovered is that the fatality rate was much lower than it should have been because so many victims were initially treated at the scene before Emergency Services arrived, which is not surprising because it’s the immediate response to a serious wound – tourniquet, CPR, etc., – that is often the difference between life and death. And who were these citizen-protectors? They were, for the most part, physicians who had participated as runners in the marathon and were hanging around the finish line to wait for other runners, and it was the finish line where the bomb was detonated. And none of these physicians were Emergency doctors, as it turned out, but their basic medical training gave them the knowledge and experience they needed to respond to these emergencies.

    I think about that incident every time I read someone like you who throws out the word ‘training’ to pretend that you or other people like you are ready to ‘defend’ the rest of us against all those monsters lurking out there. So I’ll say it again. It’s very nice that you stood in front of a paper target and shot a gun 20 times and hit the target. But human targets don’t stand still. They move. And I say again that when you throw a word like ‘training’ around to make people think that they are ‘trained’ to respond to an emergency situation because they go to a range every once in a while and bang away for a bit, all you are doing is promoting what is a false argument about what the word ‘training’ really means. If you walked into a room where a bunch of physicians were talking about the kind of training that they have undergone which allows to respond to real emergencies and told them what you consider the necessary training that you would recommend for ‘citizen protectors,’ if they were polite they would just smile, of they were not so polite, they’d laugh you out of the room.

    When you first started writing about guns I thought that perhaps you would bring an academic sense to what you were saying. And that doesn’t mean that I expected you or wanted you to be against guns. But what I did expect is that you would at least weigh your words against a standard academic criteria for using words, namely, the issue of fairness, truth and reliance on serious, peer-reviewed research. You don’t do that. You have become a promoter, and what you say about guns and self-defense is just another riff on the nonsense that the gun industry has been throwing out there since they discovered that we stopped hunting.



    • When people talk about training and how much people need it I keep wondering how much training the young men (mostly men) in the poorer neighborhoods who carry guns around thinking they need one for protection without any training or licenses are able to protect themselves. We hear about the gun violence casualties but how many of victims were shot by someone defending themselves or how many were ambushed or any of the other possibilities. Pointing and pulling a trigger is not hard to learn while learning to handle situations legally and come out of it unscathed is quite a different story. I am skeptical there is much in the line of academic research on how successful the young people in the ghettos are in defending themselves legally or not. Can the legal ‘citizen defenders’ learn anything from the people in the bad areas?


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