In my last post, I thought about the distinction between good guys with gun and bad guys with guns, and whether we can make that distinction only after someone has acted good or bad with a gun (“By their fruits ye shall know them”). The most recent incident spurring these thoughts is the mattress-in-dumpster shooting caught on video in Abilene, Texas. But there are others, of course, often involving #FloridaMan.
Although they pre-record their shows and so were not able to discuss the event in Abilene, on a recent episode of Ballistic Radio (Ep. 272, 16 September 2018), John Johnston and Melody Lauer take up the issue of responsibly armed citizenship with guest Erik “Trek” Utrecht, co-owner and instructor at the Michigan Defensive Firearms Institute.
In the discussion, Utrecht distinguishes between being “just a gun owner and a responsibly armed citizen”:
A true responsibly armed citizen leaves the house hoping that they never, ever run into a fight. But if a fight presents itself, they are ready and they will know their liabilities so they don’t hurt innocent life.
The consequences of a negative outcome when a gun is involved are high. In Utrecht’s words: “If I have to draw this weapon, if I don’t do my job 100% correct, I can make it so another innocent person — who has dreams, who has a heartbeat, who has a family — doesn’t go home.”
In his work as a gun trainer, therefore, Utrecht maintains, “My true passion is making people understand that if you actually do everything right, you will die of old age and your gun will get nothing but holster wear and sweat rust on it. And that to me is my true goal: to make sure that people are ready, but if they are actually a responsibly armed citizen, they will probably avoid 99.999% of everything that can ever happen to them poorly.”
Without ignoring the technical aspects of shooting, this suggests the even greater importance of attention to mindset and decision making for those who choose to carry the power to kill with them in public.
This has actually been a very consistent part of my education in Gun Culture 2.0, from taking Massad Ayoob’s MAG-40 course in 2012 to listening to Claude Werner’s appearance on Paul Carlson’s Safety Solutions Academy Podcast last night.
But it is one thing to distinguish analytically between a mere gun owner and a responsibly armed citizen. Much harder is to separate the two in real life.
Utrecht: “We can never allow the government to put a . . . shooting standard . . . to have the right to keep and bear arms. But . . . for a free citizenry, there has to be a consequence of failure. Quite simply meaning that, we’re not going to tell you that you can’t go out and carry a gun in public. But if you do, and you’re a liability, we are going to throw the book at you, because you’re a liability and not a responsibility to your fellow man.”
Ballistic Radio host John Johnston renders this as “policing our own.”
Utrecht: “You’re right, we do have to do a lot of policing, but it is not by regulation. It is by making those people extinct through education and separating what is responsible and what is irresponsible.”
In the first passage Utrecht suggests stiff legal punishments for those who act irresponsibly with their firearms (“we are going to throw the book at you”). But he and Johnson quickly move to the idea of community self-policing. This is an interesting but challenging idea to realize practically.
How do you motivate people to get educated so that their ignorance or irresponsibility becomes extinct, as Utrecht says?
In some communities, people are motivated to conform by the threat of exclusion. But those communities are able to achieve social closure around their community standards, which seems impossible in the broader and more diffuse gun culture.
The idea of separating the “responsible” from the “irresponsible” may also suggest more agreement on community standards than actually exists even just within defensive gun culture. Even just among defensive firearms trainers, is there an essential core of systematic knowledge or a set of professional norms that is widely agreed upon?