It’s funny, sometimes, how the most ordinary of moments can remind you of the most profound truths. It was New Year’s Eve, early in the afternoon, and I’d been invited to a friend’s house for a potluck. When I arrived, my friend had gone to the store and her teenage daughter, “T.”, was home washing dishes and watching her young brothers.
T. is a sweet young lady and someone who, like her mother, matters very much to me. Although I know this is so, I don’t spend a lot of time consciously thinking about it. Both T. and her mom go shooting with me sometimes, and when we’re together we have an easy, comfortable relationship. They’re definitely people I consider family, despite not being blood relations.
When I arrived, T. greeted me with a broad smile and a hug. I stowed my contribution to the potluck in an overfull fridge and grabbed a dishtowel. T. washed and I dried, and then she tidied up the living room while I grated a block of cheese for enchiladas. I made a bowl of ravioli for her brother, she tidied up a stack of videos and XBox games. We didn’t talk much, merely enjoyed each other’s company while we worked.
And then, it seemed as though the zoom lens of life shifted focus, and I experienced the strangest sense of crystal clarity, almost vertigo-like in its presence. It felt like looking up at an IMAX theater screen, somehow impossibly large and disorienting.
I was standing near the refrigerator, and I remember looking at T.’s back as she stood by the sink. I turned my head and saw one of her brothers walking down the hall, saw the closed bedroom door where the baby slept. And into that moment, a single thought flashed through my consciousness: The people I love are worth fighting for. They’re worth killing for, if that’s what it takes to keep them safe. And, if God forbid everything else went badly, they’re worth dying for.
I think that anyone who chooses to carry a weapon and train to use it, anyone who chooses to step up and own their own safety rather than taking the “easy way out” of denial and make-believe, knows this truth. It certainly wasn’t a thought that I was thinking for the first time. I doubt T.’s mom would be surprised by it, when she reads this post. But that sudden tangible moment of clarity shone a light on both the responsibility we assume when we choose to own our own safety and the safety of our loved ones, and the freedom that comes from knowing we aren’t helpless.
I think this is one of the things those who are afraid of guns, and who don’t make the choices we do, might not understand. Because, you see, the truth is that we’d fight and kill (and die) for their kids too.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a vigilante or a “mall ninja”, itching to yank gun from holster and rush into any conflict. I’m very clear that my mission is to get myself and my loved ones to safety if I can, and to engage the threat only if I can’t avoid or escape it. But I can think of at least two ways that armed citizens make us all safer.
First of all, although my goal is to get myself and my loved ones to safety if at all possible, there might in fact be circumstances where I do have to engage a violent predator. Or where someone else with a gun has to make that choice, if it’s a public location. Obviously, if someone intercedes in a violent encounter and stops the threat, that predator won’t go on to hurt anyone else that day, and hopefully won’t ever be free in society to hurt or rape or kill again.
The sheep, and the sheepdogs, are all safer when there’s one less wolf running around, and wolves tend not to stop after just one attack. When we measure lives saved by a defensive use of lethal force, all of that predator’s future victims should be counted in the tally. There’s no way to measure them, of course, but they are surely safer for the armed citizen’s actions.
Moreover, society as a whole would be safer if the bad guys knew there was no place they could go and not face the threat of armed resistance. This is the part of the equation the anti-gun crowd doesn’t want to acknowledge: The presence of armed citizens makes all of us safer, in much the same way parents who choose not to vaccinate their children nevertheless benefit from the “herd immunity” that the vaccinated kids create.
Personally, I don’t think that having every law-abiding citizen armed is a necessary, or even a desirable, goal. Not everyone has the mindset, the willingness, the emotional makeup to be a sheepdog, and that’s okay. But even those who choose not to arm themselves need to recognize that they are made safer by the presence of cops, military service members, and armed citizens to stand between them and the bad guys. After all, the most dangerous place to be is one where all the bad guys are armed and none of the good guys are.
This is what my moment of clarity reminded me: I have chosen to step up, to say to the predators of the world, “not me, and not mine, not while I can help it.” Not every person in society can, or has to, make that choice. But those of us that have need to be clear and conscious about it, ready to back up our choice with action if that awful day should come when we’re called upon to stand between our loved ones and the monster. We need to be clear in our intention, and in our dedication to backing up that intention with skills, equipment, and training. And even though it might hurt our hearts to imagine tragedy, we need to be absolutely clear who and what is at stake.
We all pray the wolf will never come knocking on our door. But if it does, we must be ready.