The basic right to carry a concealed deadly weapon such as a firearm for personal defense comes with a moral imperative and legal obligation to walk the moral high ground. Unfortunately, the road is not always well paved, and there are stretches where there is no road. So, how do we who go armed stay on the right path?
I have thought about this question ever since I began carrying concealed firearms, which was right after September 11, 2001.
As a child, I was an avid fan of TV westerns–and I still am. The most popular of this genre included such programs as Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and The Rifleman. These shows were dramas and not mindlessly violent shoot ‘em up action shows. Typically, they depicted human tales with moral lessons. For example, Gunsmoke’s Marshal Dillon, played by James Arness was typically reluctant to go to guns and shoot people, even bad guys.
Similarly, the Ponderosa’s Cartwrights of Bonanza, who weren’t lawmen, were reluctant to shoot people. They only went to guns when they had no other choice, and when it was in defense of innocent life. And The Rifleman’s hero and model father, played earnestly and convincingly by Chuck Connors, although a very dangerous man if pushed to the limits, and a consummate gun fighter, had strong morals which he was continually teaching his son.
The TV westerns of the sixties depicted a simpler time that is long gone. Today, the world is more complicated and totally unlike that earlier time, and a far cry from the innocence of the fifties, sixties, and even the seventies and eighties. However, the dialectic of good versus evil continues to play out today. This, among other reasons, is why keeping and bearing firearms remains an absolute necessity. And this is why those of us who lived the armed lifestyle must walk the moral high ground. So, what is the moral high ground?
It all boils down to good intentions and appropriate restraint. Have you ever watched a movie in which the protagonist finally overpowers and captures the bad guy alive, and wants to wreak his longed-for vengeance? In most scenarios, unless the bad guy continues to be an immediate threat, the hero lets him live to face justice. In every fiber of his being, the hero might want to deliver a coup de grace. But he does not.
In the end, what makes him the “good guy” is that he exercises appropriate restraint. Having good intentions means you avoid doing unnecessary harm. Now, let’s apply this dialectic to one aspect of everyday reality.
In an extended thread on the online www.DefensiveHandguns.com forum, members examined the following scenario: A middle aged man is leaving a bar/restaurant some time after 1:00 AM, and walking to his parked vehicle with several female friends with whom he has shared a pleasant evening. Suddenly, three twenty something gang bangers walk up to them and verbalize inappropriate and invasive sexual comments to the women. Two of the punks slap one woman’s rear end. She flips out.
The man confronts the three gang bangers. Essentially, he tells them that they have committed an assault and that they need to go away and leave him and his female friends alone. The gang bangers then physically assault him. Two of the women call 911. In the mean time, the man is being beaten—three young men against one middle aged man. The women do not jump in. They continue to witness the thrashing and they become hysterical.
This event actually happened in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania earlier this year. The man was not armed. The three gang bangers brutally beat this man and he sustained a severe concussion and other serious injuries, but he survived. The gang bangers fled into the night as the police sirens approached.
Now let’s slightly modify the story as was done for purposes of discussion on the Defensive Handguns forum, www.DefensiveHandguns.com In this version of the story, the man is armed and the question is whether this man would have been in the right to present his firearm when the three gang bangers made it clear that they were about to assault him.
Some forum discussants opined that, if the man had been armed, he would not have been in the right to present his firearm because, by verbally confronting the gang bangers, he had instigated the fight and escalated the altercation. They argued that it would be a different story if he was unarmed and had the skill set of a Chuck Norris or a Steven Seagall. Then he might have been in the right to confront they said.
In reality, the man was in fact unarmed and he did not have advanced martial arts or hand to hand combatives skills. Therefore, these discussants reasoned, he should have avoided verbally engaging the offenders and he should have tried to move away with his charges. Their argument was that the man was beat down because it was just him against three younger and stronger men (disparity of strength and numbers) and that he foolishly erred in brazenly confronting greater power and strength. He was lucky he wasn’t killed.
On the other side of the debate, there were those who argued that whether or not the man was armed, he had the right to verbally confront the offenders and take defensive actions when they attacked him. Some of these discussants argued that if he had been armed, he would have been in the right to present his firearm given the immediate threat of grave bodily harm and death with which he was confronted due to the marked disparity of force.
Which side of the debate do you fall on? If you carry a firearm for self defense, does appropriate restraint mean you must avoid all confrontations? Does being discreetly armed mean you must abdicate your right to confront bad or inappropriate aggressive behavior? If you have no intention of employing deadly force, or using your gun to intimidate, is the wisest course of action to keep your mouth shut when you witness an assault?
The extended discussion of this actual incident can be read in its entirety at www.DefensiveHandguns.com and every situation is different given the totality of the circumstances. However, the common thread that runs through every social problem is the importance of exercising appropriate restraint. It cannot be reduced to a formula because the dictum is that you must employ good judgment in order to exercise appropriate restraint. Your mind must be in control of your emotions.
Common sense and survival dictate that you calculate the odds before you commit yourself to a course of action that is likely to lead to a fight. In the case above, given a clear disparity of force against him, would it have been cowardly if the older man chose to strategically appear to not react to the insult, for the sake of the greater good of keeping everyone safe?
Sure, if that man had Chuck Norris’s skills, he could probably verbally confront the punks knowing they would attack, and then, he could probably calibrate his unarmed counter attack based on their degree of force. After all, three gang bangers against Norris may not be a disparity of force against Norris. However, if the bangers introduced deadly weapons, that would be another story.
Now, if the older man was armed, one would need to ask, and if he had to shoot the bangers afterwards in self defense, a grand jury would ask, whether he responded to the wrong doers in the way that he did because he knew that he had the power of deadly force with him. You see, the common sense dictum and legal standard is that one should walk away from a fight if one safely can (keeping one’s own and one’s companions safety in mind). Additionally, this standard demands that one must avoid using deadly force if at all safely possible.
So, this goes into the question of intent. And it is an important question. If the man was armed and he chose to confront, the question would be, what was he thinking? Was he thinking that he could and should confront because he was armed, and therefore, he could handle the situation if the bangers escalated? In fact, another question would be, was he thinking, or just reacting? And if he was just reacting, was he exercising appropriate restraint?
In the event as it happened, the man was not armed. Was he thinking or just feeling? That is an important question. We who go armed must think. Let’s be clear. I am one hundred percent for immediately countering violence with greater violence to neutralize the attackers. But here’s the problem. When we are carrying, we are held by the law to a higher standard than when we are unarmed. Without a doubt, this is a tough question. If you are attacked and your life and limb are in immediate danger, you must do whatever you must do to survive without grave bodily injury.
But, do we sacrifice the right to respond with righteous anger to clear wrongs when we are armed and such response could result in our having to use the deadly power at our disposal? I do not have a clear cut answer. However, what I want to leave you with is the thought that you must think before you act and stay in control of your emotions, for your own and everyone’s good. So, be smart, use your head, and stay safe. Our mind is our greatest weapon.