Members of the Lexington Militia, Massachusetts Colony, lined up in formation on the town green and waited. When the British Regulars marched into town and saw them they rushed over and squared off facing them, ready for a fight. No one knows who fired the first shot. It was the beginning of a very long day, the first day of our American Revolution, April 19, 1775.

To what extent revolution is in the air today is a matter of perspective. But the parallel here, with the possibility of armed clashes, cannot be missed. Resistance to the gun registration laws of 2013 in Connecticut and New York has been extraordinarily stiff. Estimates for the total number of residents in the two states who have defied the new laws vary, but by any measure they are in the hundreds of thousands.

And each of those residents is risking a felony conviction, as well as confiscation of their firearms, by doing so. We’ll get to why they chose to do that in a moment. The more immediate concern is the risk taken by the states – that is, the potential for violence that now exists if the law is enforced. Enforcement raises the specter of arrests, confiscations, prosecutions, imprisonments, and violence due to miscalculation, misunderstanding, or just sheer resistance to what is seen as a violation of the right of the people to keep and bear arms.

Our revolution began at Lexington after British troops were sent out there to seize armaments belonging to the colonials and used by their local militias. If this had been preceded by a demand to register all the colonial arms it would have been met with the same reception: resistance. Our revolutionary forbears knew better than to supply the fox with the keys to the henhouse. Registration is and has always been considered tantamount to confiscation.

And this is where we stand today in Connecticut and New York. It’s a standoff between the people and their state governments. The states cannot enforce the law without the high risk of violence, and if any resident is harmed as a result of such enforcement it will galvanize millions of people of arms all across the country. This is potentially catastrophic. An attack on one would be seen as an attack on all, a killing in the name of an unconstitutional law, an assault against life and liberty by a hostile government.

It won’t matter who shoots first, any more than it mattered at Lexington. In effect – and too many politicians have yet to grasp this – the registration law is the first shot: people of arms who are in violation have been declared fair game for arrest, imprisonment, and denial of the civil right to arms – loss of rights, livelihood, and liberty, all at the point of a gun. That is what the states have declared, and the people are well aware of what it means and what the possible consequences are.

When the mistrust, anger, and alienation between two sides reaches a certain pitch, all it takes is a spark at the right time and place and circumstance; a line is crossed, shots are fired, and there is no turning back, no way to undo the damage. We haven’t crossed that line yet. But if we’re going to keep things that way politicians are going to have to wise up and understand why their behavior is considered so threatening by their constituents and others throughout the land.

The “scofflaws” who are resisting registration are for the most part otherwise ordinary people who do not commit crimes. They have jobs, families, mortgages. Why are they taking such a risk, when all they had to do was register their weapons, after which they could have continued to possess them and use them as before? Partly it’s because they know their rights and they don’t like getting pushed around. But the motivation runs much deeper than just an individual right to keep his or her guns.

People of arms are part of a culture, a living tradition, where rights and responsibilities are two sides of one coin. The people know their rights were fought over and won for them by soldiers long gone, ancestors whose names and faces have faded from memory. Every generation learns that, and any generation might be called to the same duty. Today, if our rights are under threat, then we will someday be the ancestors to whom future generations will look back on and judge: did we keep our rights, did we preserve them for the future as people in the past preserved them for us, or did we lose – through lack of faith in the people, want of courage, lack of will, selfishness or laziness – and condemn them to an unequal struggle for a freedom we took for granted? Who would do that to their own progeny – their children, grandchildren, and all the generations who come after them – living in the shadow of our loss until things could be set right again at the expense of their own blood? The people of arms in Connecticut and New York have already given their answer. “Not on our watch,” they said.

People of arms recognize a right and a duty to resist registration. Many also recognize a right and a duty to resist forcible disarmament with force. This pits honest citizens against their lawful protectors, which is perverse. This is where the first clashes are most likely to erupt, between law enforcement and the targeted people of arms. But who set this deadly train in motion? It was the lawmakers, and there have been indications they themselves could become targets for retaliation if the people are harmed in any enforcement efforts. Obviously this would be a very ugly situation.

There are few people on any side of the issue that would like to see this happen. It’s bad enough that in our political sphere we have good people fighting against each other more often than they are actually working together in the common interest. How much worse would it be if we had good American citizens on both sides actually shooting at each other?

We have considered the parallels between the onset of our Revolution and the standoff in Connecticut and New York. Both have to do with disarmament (failure to register being a legal justification for disarmament) by the governing authority, and the risk of violence. This is important to keep in mind, because if the shooting starts we all lose control; all bets are off, and even the winners suffer greatly. But there are differences which could help mitigate current threats.

When our Revolution started people were ready for a change. The British authority sought to seize the colonials’ arms so they would not be a military threat to British rule. The colonials did not need the British authority and after eight grueling years of war they got rid of it. Today, people of arms have the same rights to protect, but revolution is in general not the goal. It’s no secret that most gun owners only wish to be left in peace, to be left alone to enjoy the freedoms they’ve always had. And people in Connecticut and New York have been bolstered by widespread notices from sheriffs and state troopers saying they will not enforce the new laws. In other words, the people’s protectors are on the side of the people, not the politicians.

That’s one thing that’ll help keep the peace. The other thing is that it seems the main intent of the new laws was to ban certain types of firearms and magazines; creating a registry of the weapons and their owners is of secondary importance. The firearms are expected to slowly drain away by attrition: as the owners die or get tired of them they will be sold to out-of-state buyers and eventually banished altogether from the states, since residents are now prohibited from buying them. This is what the states’ administrations really want, and as far as a strategy is concerned it may not a bad one: no confrontation, and the “problem” slowly leaks away.

Well, not exactly. The AR-15 rifle, one of the most coveted targets of many a gun ban, is highly modular and easily modified to comply with legal restrictions. In California, for example, the most prominent alteration made it so the ammunition are magazines non-detachable (“bullet button” feature). And now in New York it’s the pistol grip just behind the trigger that’s been done away with; people will have to hold the gun differently when they shoot, but other than ergonomic and cosmetic changes it’s the same thing. Similar innovations offer Connecticut residents a version of the rifle that conforms to their new law. The gun is not going away any time soon. The Yankee ingenuity that gave us the AR-15 is a gift that just keeps on giving.

It’s not clear how many will adopt the new designs (or least of all, magazine restrictions), which handicap the defender – criminals and the tyrant’s henchmen won’t obey any restrictions or bans (however unlikely one thinks tyranny here is possible, even in the infinite future, that’s one purpose of the weapons) – while the aggressors have free reign. What gun owner would accept such a handicap when it comes to defending himself, his family and his country? Private citizens and law enforcement personnel (and criminals alike for that matter) have always had access to the same kinds of weapons. And now there is an attempt to split, to drive a wedge between those that govern and enforce, and the rest of the people who are often referred to as “civilians” and considered unworthy of the same firearms for protection. But in America, everyone in our society is a civilian, regardless of rank or badge. We are all equally worthy of living and worth defending.

People of arms cannot be separated from their firearms because they cannot be separated from what they know is their responsibility for defending life and liberty. So while each state’s administration has in effect said to the people, We don’t want your weapons in this state, what they really means is, We think people like you don’t belong in this state, no matter even if they were born and raised there.

That’s a pretty serious thing for a government to say to its citizens, particularly when it comes with an implied threat of force. And so what if the law is not enforced and force is not used? Here government passes a law threatening the people with fines and imprisonment, then sits back on its hands because it’s shocked by the defiance and afraid of the consequences of enforcement, yet doesn’t have the sense or the guts to rescind the ominous law. And who’s to say the law won’t be enforced at some local level? The stage is set for tragic consequences as long as the law is in effect.

While the resistance has been overwhelming in terms of percentages and sheer numbers, what’s difficult to gauge is how militant the resistance is, or put another way, what fraction of the resistance is willing to make a fight of it if preyed upon by its own government. There is a thin line between being a member of an outcast minority and being a revolutionary. And again, it’s important to remember, people of arms are a national minority, and could come from all over the country to assist people under siege. In that sense it doesn’t matter how militant the people would be; there would be enough of them to raise hell, and that’s what war is.

A line has been drawn and both sides have guns. No shots have been fired so far, but the resistance is a warning. We must assume people of arms will defend their rights as they would defend their lives. For now, the state governments have blinked, and much of the gun culture has gone underground, making for an uneasy peace and a dangerous time to miscalculate.

The politicians must begin to understand just how threatening their behavior is to people of arms. That’s the most important thing that needs to happen if we are to avoid violence. Politicians: get educated! You don’t know your people. Learn before it’s too late.

The other thing is that with so many people at odds with their government the legitimacy of government itself is at stake. Americans are already feeling increasing disillusionment and loss of faith in government in general. And now we have something new: widespread disobedience among a peaceable demographic even against the threat of stiff penalties. It’s the culmination of the worst of gun control laws that do the thing gun control does best – turn law-abiding citizens into criminals.

If the state governments had counted on their people rolling over, and not caring about their rights and responsibilities, or not recognizing the threats inherent in a government’s drive to create a monopoly of force against them, then they have found themselves much mistaken. The people understand that under such a principle, when it comes to weapons the government claims it can have whatever it wants, and the government can decide whatever you need. And this is not the way of a free people.

Guns in America: The Heart of the Matter

We Americans claim the unalienable rights to life and liberty, and as with all rights these come with certain responsibilities, among which is the duty to protect and defend against threats to life and liberty, up to and including through force of arms if necessary.

Each of us is responsible for our personal defense and that of those who depend on us, and each citizen is responsible for helping to safeguard the nation’s liberty.

These twin principles are at the heart of America’s gun culture. People of arms – those who are aware of their responsibility and recognize their duty – have a culture, and a cultural identity as indelible and undeniable as race, creed, or color. They cannot be separated from their firearms because they cannot be separated from their enlightened sense of responsibility. You cannot ban a responsibility, and enlightenment cannot be undone.

We would all be better off if everyone understood and acknowledged this simple fact. Gun ownership at its core is an ethnic identity, not a consumer choice. People of arms do not cling to guns any more than people cling to their own hair.

The right of the people to keep and bear arms is a civil right that supports the human rights of self-defense and defense of liberty. This is a matter of eternal principles and requires eternal vigilance by the people, which is why the right to keep and bear arms is timeless, as relevant and important now as it ever was.

The most immediate and obvious benefit of the right to keep and bear arms is for personal defense. But no country can afford to assume that its government is immortal, that the government has somehow managed to transcend history, never to run its course and fall like so many others, that it will always reflect the best in human nature, and never need to be treated with stern measures at the hands of its people.

Some think the right no longer matters because the people have already lost, that the modern state with its dazzling array of destructive weapons is much too powerful to oppose with force, and that doing so and expecting to prevail is some sort of romantic fantasy. But believing that the American people could not mount a potent resistance, or that they should surrender the rights and firepower they have without a struggle, itself is the real fantasy.

Violent criminals and tyrants alike will respect no bans on type of firearms or magazine ammunition capacity. And it doesn’t take a genius to see that if a tyrant were at work today, firearms such as semi-automatic pistols with 17-round magazines and AR-15 rifles with 30-round magazines would be the primary weapons of the tyrant’s henchmen, used to subdue and terrorize the people. Accordingly, any restriction or prohibition of such weaponry is illegitimate, a violation of the right of the people and without force of law. The people recognize a right and a duty to resist such violations. And government should recognize that illegitimate law means illegitimate government.

Registration likewise is illegitimate: one does not give the fox the keys to the henhouse. And any ‘law’ prohibiting a registry is merely a government promise, which is worthless. Not even the possibility of a registry can be permitted. Complete data on which citizens own what firearms – information accessible to government with the ability to be gathered and compiled later – must not be allowed to be created in the first place.

If all this seems like an unwillingness to compromise, that is an illusion: accepting a handicap in a gunfight – via inferior firearms and/or ammunition limits – is not a compromise, and neither is a government demand for registration. And if this evokes the vague charge of absolutism, that is only because few things are more absolute than matters of life and death, liberty and slavery. Whether it’s in a fight against the criminal or the tyrant, the blood of the innocent, like the blood of the patriot, should command a high price. No one should ever expect either to be sold at a discount.

Today people of arms are a minority. And like any minority they are subject to bigotry. They know it when they see it and they know that it is wrong. But it is ineffective and counterproductive (not to mention unflattering to the bigot). No amount of denigrating or demonizing can shake the confidence of this culture or prevent its logic from being heard. Self-reliant people of arms have been here since before this country existed and were instrumental in its creation. They have a direct link to the American Revolution that cannot be severed.

Odysseus M. Tanner


Up until a few decades ago the standard police weapon was a six-shooter, typically a .38 revolver, and often there was a 12-gauge shotgun in the police cruiser. Nowadays it’s a semi-auto pistol and AR-15 rifle, with spare magazines loaded and ready. Private citizens have followed suit for the most part, as they have in the past, and employ the same weapons as police for their defense.

The semi-automatic AR-15 rifle fires a small caliber round (.223 Remington) that is commercially used in hunting for small game animals and varmints. While clever bullet design can make this round more effective for combat, it remains an intermediate-power weapon: it cannot reliably stop an attacker with a single shot (unlike the full-power M14 rifle pictured above, chambered in .308 Winchester), though it is more powerful than a handgun. (The AR-15 is often referred to as a “high-powered assault rifle,” but that is a media-driven misnomer.) One particularly important quality of the AR-15 is that, unlike handgun bullets, the .223 bullet tends to fragment easily when it hits something – even a few sheets of drywall – which helps minimize risk to innocent parties. This is one reason why the AR-15 is a good weapon, especially in urban environments where every bullet that misses its target is going to strike something – another person, car, window, wall, etc. The same qualities that make it a standard police weapon can make it a good choice for citizen self-defense. Accuracy is outstanding; recoil is relatively mild for a long gun, allowing for fairly rapid follow-up shots, which is important in a fluid situation like a gunfight; the standard magazine capacity of 30 rounds also minimizes the risk of needing to take the time to reload while you’re being shot at.

A handgun is more difficult to handle than a “long gun” like the AR-15. A long gun such as a rifle or shotgun is shoulder-fired and much easier to aim and hit with, especially if any distance is involved. While the handgun bullet can be effective at long distances, most people cannot hit well beyond about 25ft, and that’s when standing in an optimal stance at the shooting range, shooting at a target that’s not shooting back. Inside the home, at very close range, many people prefer a handgun for its maneuverability; a long gun can be unwieldy in close quarters. However, nothing beats a shotgun at close range, so if you can hunker down (say, in a safe room) and let the intruder come to you, it can be an excellent option. The recoil of a shotgun is quite stiff however, and can be a problem for some people – the power comes with a price – particularly for the elderly or people with shoulder problems, so there’s no reason why someone shouldn’t substitute an AR-15 for a shotgun. Just be aware it is not as powerful, and be prepared to shoot more than once.

There are further, modern advantages to the AR-15 over other firearms. It is highly modular and can be tailored to suit the user in a variety of ways. It is easy to mount onboard flashlights (you have to see and identify your target after all, and most fights happen in low-light conditions), as well as “red dot” optical sights, lasers, forward vertical grips to aid in control and retention of the firearm, adjustable length buttstocks to allow for different clothing conditions or differences in stature, compartments for battery storage, etc. The flashlight and red dot are the most important accessories. The red dot sight is like a little window or scope used instead of, or in tandem with, the traditional front-rear iron sights system. It works similar to a laser: you look through the window and see the illuminated dot wherever you aim, except that it does not actually shine any light or beam downrange (and has no magnification). This makes target acquisition faster and easier. Put the dot on the target and shoot. Scopes with magnification can also easily be mounted or swapped out using quick release levers without loss of accuracy. Like it or not, the AR-15 is an American icon, as identifiable as the western frontier lever action rifle, and a triumph of Yankee ingenuity.

The typical modern defense handgun is a semi-auto pistol with a detachable magazine, and while there are a great variety of makes and models, the Glock pistol is the most popular, and epitomizes the modern design. Most police in America carry a Glock pistol on the hip (standard magazine capacity of up to 17 rounds), and have ready access to an AR-15 semi-auto rifle with 30-round magazines – I’m talking about rank and file police having access to AR-15s in the trunk of their patrol cars, not SWAT or special assault teams. The reason everyday police use these weapons – the Glock and the AR-15 – is because they are exactly the kind of guns you would want to have if you needed to defend yourself. (And as we’ve all seen, whenever some shooting happens all of a sudden there are lots of police carrying AR-15s, illustrating the old saying: you bring a rifle to a gunfight, not a handgun.) And so it’s no surprise that citizens have also chosen the most effective means for their personal defense: firearms like Glocks and AR-15s.

The term “assault weapon” is largely a political term with no clear definition. “Assault” is a type of behavior, not a type of firearm. With some exceptions, police do not “assault” people with gunfire, so they would have no need of an “assault rifle.” They are out to make arrests; their pistols and AR-15s are for personal defense and for defending members of their team – including defense against the kind of criminals who prey on innocent citizens.

What would be the effect of restricting private citizens’ access to such weapons and magazines? Besides handicapping their ability to defend themselves, very little. There are already millions of AR-15s alone in private hands, and tens of millions of 30-round magazines for them. Even if the magazines are illegal in one’s home state, he can drive across state lines and get them, and it’s as easy as buying a bar of soap. If someone is bent on doing harm with any kind of pistol, rifle, or shotgun, he will have little trouble acquiring the means.

On the other hand, if magazine limits are imposed this could put the citizen at a disadvantage with respect to his or her criminal attacker(s). Basically, it’s an ammunition handicap on the citizenry – who wants to accept a handicap in a gunfight?

Often, as is happening now, a high profile shooting used to push legislation, legislation which may well have nothing to do with preventing the type of crime that just occurred. “Universal background checks,” in which all firearms transactions would go through a federally licensed dealer who would run the background check, was heavily promoted in response to Sandy Hook even though it would not have prevented that tragedy from happening. It turns out that “universal background checks” is just the old “closing the gun show loophole” idea, which has been near the top of the gun control wish list for quite a few years. It was dusted off, repackaged, and renamed to sound like something new that had to be done right away.

Regardless of what one thinks about the merit of background check legislation, many gun owners justifiably see the push as opportunistic, something that was part of the anti-gun agenda all along, and where there is a chance to strike while the iron is hot – even if it would have done nothing to stop the Sandy Hook killer.

What about magazine capacity? The Sandy Hook killer used an AR-15 with 30-round magazines and murdered 26 people. Yet the Virginia Tech killer used a Glock pistol with only a 15-round magazine capacity and murdered 30 – he fired a total of 170 rounds at college students, some of them probably athletic and strong enough to overpower him if they could have gotten to him. In the case of the Arizona shooter, some like to point out was tackled when he tried to reload after discharging a 33-round magazine, indicating he would have killed fewer people with a smaller magazine, and that may be true in this particular case. The problem is that it is a mistake to generalize from this one particular instance. He was stopped while fumbling with another oversized magazine. If he had just used standard size magazines, mounted in magazine pouches on a belt or chest rig, and did a modicum of reloading practice beforehand, he might have been unstoppable. This is counterintuitive but nevertheless true: he might well have been more deadly with 15-round magazines than he was with the 33-round magazines – just as the Virginia Tech shooter was. The idea is this: Armed with a semi-automatic firearm, shooting at people who can’t get away and can’t shoot back, the mass murderer is limited only by the amount of ammunition he can carry. Even if the police stop him before he runs out of ammo a lot of damage will have already been done. This is why many people are opposed to “gun-free” zones where citizens with carry permits cannot bring their weapons – it turns places into “free-fire” kill zones for mass murderers.

Would we be better off if we could turn back the clock so that all we had were revolvers and shotguns, no modern semi-auto pistols or rifles? Maybe, but it hardly seems to matter. Criminals (and potential tyrants) will not go along with any weapons ban or magazine capacity limits. Consequently, people of arms resist any effort to impose arbitrary limits – gunfight handicaps – on their ability to defend their lives and their freedom. And defense of life and liberty is why we have “gun rights” in the first place.


We are civilized people. In the face of a violent, deadly threat, whether at home or on the street, if we could just push a button and make the attacker go to sleep long enough for the police to arrive and haul him away, we would do so. But the truth is sometimes good people have to do terrible violence if they want to survive.

Contrary to what we see in the movies, it is very difficult to stop a determined attacker with gunfire, and the key word is stop. Bullets do terrible damage to the body, but an assailant does not have to stop unless he loses consciousness through a hit to the brain (a difficult and well protected target), loss of blood pressure (which takes time), or if sufficient damage is done to physically incapacitate, such as a hit to the spine or pelvic girdle (also very difficult to target).

It’s probably true that most fights involving shooting are over in just a few shots. But this is generally not because the attacker has been disabled or killed but because he runs away or gives up – after all, he was not expecting nor wanting to get into a gunfight. Bullets do cause pain, but the pain may be minimized or absent altogether if adrenaline is present or if, as is often the case, the guy is on drugs. You cannot afford to rely on any of these factors stopping the fight when your life is at stake. You must be ready and able to continue shooting until the attacker is no longer a threat.

You never hear in the news that there was “a gunfight.” It’s always “a shooting.” But if you are in a fight for your life you are, for all practical purposes, in a gunfight. “The first rule in a gunfight is: have a gun,” a popular saying in the gun culture. Though it may last no longer than a few seconds or minutes it will seem like an eternity. Due to the effects of adrenaline time seems to slow down, and you may not know at the time, nor remember afterwards, how many rounds you fired. You may not hear what’s going on around you (audio exclusion); you may be strongly fixated on the threat (tunnel vision). These are well-known effects you need to be prepared to expect. In this fight there may be good solid hits, wing hits, and outright misses. Add to this scenario multiple attackers and you can start to imagine how many shots you might have to fire to win.

“A handgun is what you use to fight your way back to your rifle,” another popular saying. The corollary to this is you should not have left it behind in the first place. Or, put to it another way, “If you know you’re going to a gunfight you bring a rifle, not a handgun.” A handgun, in common defense calibers, is an underpowered weapon, in the sense that it cannot reliably stop a human attacker quickly with a single shot or even multiple rounds. A hunter chooses a rifle with the appropriate range and power to take the game he’s after. A deer hunter, for example, may use the popular lever action 30-30, which is relatively moderate in power but adequate, yet much more powerful than the handguns used for self-defense. And the hunter targets the heart and lung area of an animal he takes by surprise (he’s basically a sniper), so you can get an idea what it takes to drop an animal of that size quickly: a solid hit to the chest with a powerful rifle. In combat, we want to be able to stop a vicious meth head predator at point blank range almost instantaneously. This is not easy, even if you have a handgun and do everything right. In general you should expect to shoot more than once. Aim for the chest or next best target, shoot, and keep shooting until he’s no longer a threat. Even if mortally wounded an attacker may still be able to fight long enough to kill.

You can no more tell how many bullets it will take to end a gunfight any more than you can tell how many punches it will take to win a fistfight, especially if there’s more than one attacker. For example, in New York City near the Empire State Building, two police officers expended a total of 16 rounds from their pistols to take down a single gunman on the street in broad daylight. A Georgia mother huddling in a closet in her home with her twin 9-year old children emptied a six-shot revolver at an intruder armed with a crowbar, hitting him 5 times in the face and neck. Yet he was still able to go back down the stairs and get into his car and drive a short distance.

There is really no such thing as too much ammo in a gunfight, just as there is no excuse for running out of ammo before the gunfight is over. By design, the ammo capacity of a defense firearm is a balance between factors such as weight, bulk, and ease of handling. Most semi-auto weapons have a detachable magazine and can be reloaded quickly. What are often called “high capacity” magazines – arbitrarily determined (for now) to be more than 10 rounds – by a compliant media are really “standard capacity.” As usual, the invented rhetoric is driven by the agenda.

A shotgun is much more effective than handgun at close range, but it does kick a bit and is not suitable for everyone. It takes longer to get back on target for follow-up shots which may be needed; a long gun such as a shotgun (or rifle) is harder to maneuver indoors; it’s harder to retain if an intruder manages to grab the barrel end; and if you’re holding him at gunpoint it’s difficult to hold the shotgun with one hand as you dial 911 with the other. Still, if it’s suitable for you and your situation (such as being able to hunker down in a room and let the attacker come to you), it’s an excellent fight-stopper.

It is not hard to become proficient with a firearm. It takes some practice, but it’s pretty straightforward if you learn how your weapon operates, and follow the fundamental rules of safe handling. Take your time, keep at it, and get feedback from other shooters. But what is most important in a lethal encounter is the mental preparation, the willingness to respond quickly with deadly force when the situation demands it. This is something most people can learn if they choose to. It is a human attribute and is not limited to police or others with special training. And while most police may be competent with their weapons, they are not highly trained marksmen by any means, contrary to popular belief. Police and private citizens have different jobs to do but they have the same responsibility: to protect innocent life from harm.

By law, you may only use deadly force when presented with an imminent threat of death or grave bodily harm. In your own home you have more leeway than you do when carrying a weapon outside the home, though this can vary somewhat depending on locale. If someone breaks into a home that is occupied, particularly at night, there is often the presumption is that the intruder intends to deal violently with the people inside.

Everyone who intends to have a firearm for self-defense should be appropriately prepared and trained: know the law concerning justifiable use of deadly force; observe the fundamental safety rules of firearms handling; be proficient with the weapon you choose; and again, most important, be mentally prepared to face a deadly threat and take effective action. The proper mindset is the most valuable tool in your favor, outweighing all other considerations of weapons, tactics, and training.


Vice President Joe Biden made some news when he recommended women use a shotgun for self-defense, saying it’s easier to shoot than an AR-15 rifle, when actually the rifle kicks way less than a shotgun and is easier to control. Many women prefer the AR-15 for just that reason. He also implied the common myth that a shotgun is easier to hit with, when the reality is at close range the pellets do not spread enough to make a difference. But what really got people’s attention was when he related the advice he said he gave to his own wife. In the event of trouble outside their house, she was to go out on their balcony with a double barrel shotgun and “fire two blasts” (presumably up into the air). Now, there are a number of reasons why warnings shots are generally not a good idea, but the important thing to note here is that at this point his wife is standing on the balcony with an empty gun, and an easy target for anyone outside. His advice is tactically unsound to say the least. But it doesn’t end there. He later advised taking a shotgun and shooting through the door if someone is trying to get in. This violates one of the fundamental rules of gun handling: always be sure of your target and what’s behind it. People have made terrible mistakes violating this essential rule. Not too long ago a young athlete, Oscar Pistorius, shot and killed his girlfriend by shooting her through the bathroom door in their apartment in South Africa.

You would think someone as high up in government as the vice president, who was instrumental in crafting the original “assault weapons” ban of 1994, and currently happens to be heading the president’s task force on “gun control” would know a little bit more about guns. (Last I heard he was still talking about “clips” when he really means “magazines,” even though a clip is quite different.) But this is what we’ve come to expect. It is typical of the people drafting and passing laws affecting guns and gun owners. They are by turns careless, negligent, ignorant, and reckless. They are fighting against something they do not understand and do not care to. We can expect more of the same.

Now, we might say Biden is just being gaffe-prone as usual, or that maybe he’s deliberately toying with the members of the gun culture, trying to get their goat and stir up anger and vitriol, thinking it’ll help make his job easier. It’s possible, but doubtful. (One thing we can say in his favor is he’s a politician who says what he thinks.) Learning the rules of gun handling, and the law as it pertains to deadly force, just isn’t relevant in his world, and I don’t think he feels the need to understand people for whom it is relevant and important. All he needs to know is how to pass laws in support of the ideology he serves.

Odysseus M Tanner


Note: The following is information, much of which is common knowledge, and opinion; it is not legal advice.

The ‘concealed carry revolution,’ as it’s informally called, began in Florida in 1987 and has since swept much of the nation. Where previously only a few states allowed residents to carry a loaded sidearm in public, every state in the Union now has some form of right to carry for personal defense. About 40 states have what are called ‘shall issue’ permits, where any law abiding citizen who meets requirements can get a permit.

While the ‘castle doctrine’ has long helped protect the right of the people to use deadly force against intruders in the home, the right to carry acknowledges that threats can occur not just at home, but wherever people happen to be in daily life. In fact, the risks outside the home are usually greater.

Threats can occur at random, and a potential victim must be ready to defend against an attacker who chooses the time and place. For this reason, people who choose to carry usually do so at all times, and everywhere permitted by law.

Generally the firearm is required to be concealed (though many states also permit some form of ‘open carry’), which means hidden away so others can’t see it, usually covered by clothing even in hot weather, and regardless of physical activity, jackets blowing in the wind, etc. Handguns come in small sizes to help accommodate this, but it is still a big inconvenience carrying a little metal brick around day in and day out, week after week, year after year, always keeping it hidden and in all likelihood never actually having to use it for its intended purpose.

For some, the novelty quickly wears off, boredom sets in, and they stop carrying. For others it becomes a way of life, as natural and important as using a seat belt in a car, wearing a life vest on a boat, or keeping a fire extinguisher in the home.

A citizen who carries a gun understands his responsibility and duty to protect. Not being armed would feel like a shirking of that duty.

Most people can learn to handle a gun responsibly. Contemplating using it for self-defense involves mental preparation more than anything else. Pointing a gun at another human being and pulling the trigger is a hard thing for civilized people to consider, and anyone not willing or able to face this possibility probably should not have a gun for defense.

Whether to be armed or not is a personal decision, and one that ought to be respected. It would be just as wrong to assume those who carry are ‘paranoid’ as it would be to assume those who don’t are ‘cowardly.’ Both attitudes are lamentable.

Naturally, one who carries must have confidence in himself and be proficient with his weapon. Bull’s-eye marksmanship skills are not essential, as we’re talking about combat shooting with a handgun (pinpoint accuracy is neither required nor practicable), and for private citizens engagements will likely be at point blank range or nearly so. Familiarity with basic weapon handling and function, drawing, retaining, and firing accurately enough to fight off an aggressor are essential skills. But what is most important is the mental preparation, the willingness to use force if needed, and only by being mentally prepared will you have the mental focus when the time comes to act effectively.

So know and follow the universal rules of safe gun handling, be proficient with your choice of weapon, and know the law concerning the use of deadly force. Just joining a local range will provide a citizen plenty of help with the first two items, safety rules and weapon proficiency.

As for the law, there is plenty of information available, and as always, check your local jurisdiction for applicable laws. Generally, you are only justified in using deadly force if you are in reasonable fear of imminent death or grave bodily harm. The threat must be imminent: about to happen immediately if you don’t act. The threat must be deadly: you must be in reasonable fear for your life, and this ‘reasonable’ standard is a matter of law – a jury may well decide whether your fear was reasonable or not.

The justification for using deadly force is usually broken down into three requirements: your attacker must have the opportunity, demonstrated intent, and the means or ability to kill you if you don’t draw your weapon immediately. That is, you had no other viable options. If you can get away to safety without a fight that is always the preferred outcome, but this is not always possible or tactically feasible.

Often – indeed, perhaps in the vast majority of cases where a citizen deploys a gun in self-defense – it is enough to ‘present’ the weapon with the clear willingness to use it to get the attacker to break off, and firing a shot is not necessary. If you have the time and space to exercise this option you should do so, and hopefully your attacker will comply – after all, he’s looking for a victim, not a gunfight. But if not, you must be willing to shoot in the next instant. Don’t draw the gun unless you’re prepared to use it.

We’re talking about situations where you either have a gun and you use it to prevail in the fight of your life, or you die – real threats to life and limb and no other kind. The gun is not a magic wand ready to ward off all threats to a person’s dignity or ego.

Besides taking responsibility for your own defense, you are responsible for protecting innocent people from your misuse of the firearm. In fact I would say it’s your first responsibility – not self-defense but protecting others from yourself. I would rather die than kill an innocent person through my own negligence.

And just as lawyers chase ambulances, they also chase bullets – every bullet you fire will have a lawyer riding on it. So know your weapon, know the law, and above all know yourself and your limitations. Staying alive is great; staying out of prison is pretty good, too.

It’s often said, ‘We shouldn’t have to live like that!’ with people carrying guns around ready to use them if they need to. But that’s like saying violent predators shouldn’t exist, murders shouldn’t happen, rapes shouldn’t happen, armed robberies shouldn’t happen, when we all know they do. Now, we might answer with, ‘Live like what?’ Live like we understand our responsibilities – and taking care of one’s responsibilities in life has its own rewards – along with the value of life and our duty to protect it?

And we sometimes hear, ‘If everybody had a gun …,’ but the fact is most people are not inclined to carry a weapon. Besides the obvious inconveniences involved, it is not easy facing up to the possibility of dealing with a mortal threat, and most just prefer to ignore it and take their chances. That is their right, their freedom. It’s not for everyone, but it’s something anyone can consider where permitted.

Numbers vary from state to state, but typically a few percent of people eligible acquire permits, so figure roughly a percent or so will carry on a regular basis.

Anyone actually wanting to be a hero who saves the day with a gun – a perverse desire – would probably end up waiting for an opportunity that never comes. Violent crime happens randomly because it is the criminal – not you – who gets to choose. Therefore, you cannot ‘elect’ to be the hero: you cannot know where to be or when. The chances of it happening to any individual are vanishingly small. And if you go in search of trouble, if you provoke, if you contribute to an escalation that results in you needing to use your weapon, then you could very well find yourself in serious legal as well as moral trouble. You’re not just a citizen with a gun, you’re a well-behaved citizen with a gun, otherwise it’s like driving drunk. Any bad behavior or decisions you made that contributed to an incident will introduce some legal gray areas into your life, and that gray can get as gray as a prison cell.

If you choose to carry you must be willing to avoid unnecessary trouble: ignore petty insults and provocations that could escalate, be a courteous driver, avoid places you think could be dangerous, even avoid staying out too late at night if possible (which is when most of the bad stuff happens). We all know what bullets can do, so there is nothing to prove. You’re ready at all times to respond to a life and death emergency; you must be willing to shake off petty irritations, go about your business with an abundance of caution, and be alert to signs of trouble. You must do what you can to avoid the need to use your weapon, because for you there is only one kind of fighting: someone could die, maybe your attacker, maybe you – there are no guarantees in a gunfight.

If you ever do need to shoot you want it to be a very clear case of self-defense. You did nothing to precipitate or provoke the attack. It took you by surprise and you had no choice. This is important not just from a legal standpoint but morally, and for the sake of your own conscience. You will have to live with the knowledge and the memory of having done grievous harm to another human being. You will have to justify it to yourself as well as the world.

You have a right to defend yourself and generally any other innocents you are with. As for protecting other innocents, bystanders caught up in the situation that you don’t know, you might be able to defend them but you should only act if you are sure of the situation, and that’s not always easy. If you’re in a convenience store and a masked man walks in brandishing a gun, you know you might have to engage the threat. Or if you come upon a scene and you see a guy shoot someone, is he really a murderer, or is he an off-duty cop defending himself?

If you can’t assess a situation, stay out of it, stay back and don’t engage unless you and who you’re with are directly affected. Move away from trouble, not towards it. If you hear shots get to safety or take cover, call 911 and provide whatever information you can to help the first responders. The gun is only the last ditch, the last resort to keep you and your loved ones alive.

The right to carry is not a ‘solution’ to violent crime nor is it even guaranteed to reduce it in any measurable way, though it may provide a deterrent effect, as predators will not know whether someone is armed or not. The right to carry is a civil liberty supporting the right of self-defense outside the home. That is its sole purpose and no other justification is needed. The right does not depend on crime or other statistics and is not subject to any sort of cost-benefit analysis.

In any crisis where there is a threat to life there are what we call the ‘first responders,’ the emergency crews who come to help and provide aid. But the people already at the scene of the emergency when it strikes are the ‘zeroth responders,’ who will be on their own and will have to make do, take whatever action is necessary to cope with the situation until help arrives. And when it’s a deadly assault that can be a very long time.

If it’s a criminal attack against an individual or small group, which is the more common situation, then they will have to defend, generally against violent predators who think their marks will make easy victims.

If it’s the less common case of a mass killing by a deranged gunman, people are often trapped and cannot escape. Sometimes the best they can do is hunker down while the gunman shoots other people, and pray for help.

Either way, the concealed carry holder understands his responsibility as a ‘zeroth responder,’ and has accepted his duty. He is not here to save the day for anyone, or to be a vigilante, or to take the place of the police, the first responders. But knowing he is responsible for himself, and given the choice, he has chosen to be prepared rather than not, and to have the most effective means for defense at his disposal.

Life is worth protecting. It’s the most valuable thing we have, and any time you take on more responsibility, such as learning to drive a car, you become a more responsible citizen, a better citizen. For those up to the task, carrying is a civic duty, a matter of good citizenship.

Odysseus M Tanner

Further Reading.
Two short, classic books on self-defense and the use of force:
Principles of Self-Defense, by Jeff Cooper, and
In the Gravest Extreme, by Massad Ayoob
Real-life encounters between armed citizens and violent criminals:
Ayoob Files: The Book, by Massad Ayoob