Have you ever wondered what soldiers, cops, and other protectorly types really think of people who don't like guns? Several years ago, I found a transcript of a speech given by Dave Grossman at a military base while I was there for a job —I was not present for the speech itself. When I read it, my initial reaction was extreme indignation. I was going to post it then, but I decided to sit on it instead. The transcript fell behind my desk and escaped my memory for a few years until this past week when, during an intensive office spring cleaning, I rediscovered it. As I read it, I found that age hadn't changed my perspective very much. In it, he refers to the non-gun-toting 53% of Americans as "sheep," and tells any gun-owning citizen with a concealed weapons permit that if he leaves his home without his gun, he may as well say "baa."
Now, by pulling that out of the context of his speech, I expect any non-gun-owner to be sufficiently outraged. It's insulting. But putting it into the context of his larger speech, it is slightly less insulting. Slightly. He actually makes some good points, and it's easy to see why he believes what he believes. But there are a couple of fundamental problems with his assertions, and there are some frightening implications, not least of which is that in my job I come into contact with a lot of people who are rabid gun-carriers, and who clearly have a sense of righteousness about the idea of carrying a concealed weapon. Many of those types of people that I talk to tend to be middle-aged overweight white men with average intelligence and an apparent sense of impotence. I don't mean sexual impotence; I'm talking about that feeling you get around someone who clearly thinks of himself as a hero, yet has never had the chance to be one. There are of course many heroes in the cop and soldier business, and I don't mean to denigrate noble action. But there are many, many more frustrated, unactualized, would-be John McClanes who yearn for the chance to use their weaponry and prove to everyone that they are worth something.
At any rate, I get the feeling that Grossman and his views have had a large impact on the "responsible" gun-owning society that seems to exist largely behind the scenes to many people in America, particularly to liberals who don't have much contact with those types. So I'm going to post the transcript in full and discuss the issues I have with it in between in blue.
Everyone has been given a gift in life. Some people have a gift for science and some have a flair for art. And warriors have been given the gift of aggression. They would no more misuse this gift than a doctor would misuse his healing arts, but they yearn for the opportunity to use their gift to help others. These people, the ones who have been blessed with the gift of aggression and a love for others, are our sheepdogs. These are our warriors.
One career police officer wrote to me about this after attending one of my Bulletproof Mind training sessions:
"I want to say thank you for
finally shedding some light on why it is that I can do what
I do. I
always knew why I did it. I love my [citizens], even the bad ones, and had a talent that I could return to my
community. I just couldn't put my finger on why I could wade through the chaos, the gore, the sadness, if given a chance try
it all better, and walk right out the other side." -Even the bad ones. This is the first indicator that it is normal to label certain people as "bad." I'm not saying that there aren't bad people, I'm just saying that it's unwise to make such judgements without more qualification. What does he mean by "bad?" Gay? Muslim? Shoplifters? Welfare recipients? Or does he mean to suggest that he even loves terrorists? It's all very condescending.
Let me expand on this
excellent model of the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. We know that the sheep live in denial; that is what
makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil
the world. They can accept
the fact that fires can happen, which
is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and
fire exits throughout their
kids' schools. But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid’s school.
Our children are dozens of times more likely to
be killed, and thousands of
more likely to be seriously injured, by school violence than
by school fires. -This is an interesting point, or would be if he compared school violence to something a bit less controlled than the school system's gigantic efforts related to fire prevention and emergency evacuation. How about prescription medication overdoses? I get that he's talking about just that, the need for preparedness in the case of school violence, but it's not clear that having armed guards in every school is actually a proven way to deter violence.
But the sheep’s only
response to the
possibility of violence is denial. -So then the sheepdog's only response to the possibility of violence is more violence? Hmm. Did he steal that idea from the Bible?- The
idea of someone coming to kill or harm their children is just
so they choose the path of denial. I'd like to see some evidence for this claim besides a bold assertion. As near as I can tell, most parents worry themselves to crow's feet and grey hairs about their kids' safety. Grossman chooses to interpret a distaste for armed security guards in schools as denial rather than as a healthy skepticism of the effectiveness of such methods. Homes with guns in them are associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home itself. There is no reason to suspect that it would be any different in schools with guards, what with them leaving their guns laying all about for any depressed or homicidal student to pick up.
The sheep generally do not like the
sheepdog. He looks
a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog that intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other
way, at least not in a representative democracy
or a republic such as ours. Ugh. This metaphor is perhaps meant well, but if Grossman really believes that all types of people have a place in society, that everyone has something to offer and that "sheepdogs" are merely another such type, I find it disingenuous that he would choose to use such denigrating language.
Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that
there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them where to go, or
give them traffic tickets, or stand at the
ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues
holding an M-16. Or not search your adult diapers at the airport, nor make obnoxious comments about your private items, maybe even don't arrest journalists covering events that the government doesn't like, or not pepper spray students SITTING DURING A PEACEFUL PROTEST. The sheep would much rather have
the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, "Baa." Yes, clearly our distrust for authoritative gun-toting security types is all about a sheep-like denial of the possibilty of violence. Grossman seems to be in denial about the fact that we are too often at the mercy of the idiocy of people given sheepdog-like authority.
Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog. As Kipling said in his poem about “Tommy" the British soldier:
While its Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall behind,”
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind.
the victims, at Columbine High School were big, tough high
under ordinary circumstances they would not
have had the time of day for a police officer. They were not bad kids; they just had nothing to say to a
When the school was under attack, however, and SWAT teams were clearing the rooms and hallways, the officers had to physically peel
those clinging, sobbing kids off
of them. This
is how the little lambs feel about their sheepdog when the wolf is at the door.
at w hat happened after September 11, 2001, when the wolf pounded hard on the door.
Remember how America, more than ever before, felt
differently about their law enforcement officers and military personnel? Remember how many times you heard the word
hero? Here he makes his strongest point. Yes, absolutely, when bad things happen it is good to have a strong good-guy around. It is not denial, however, to recognize that the last time that Homeland Security created an entirely new nation-wide security team in response to a threat, we got the TSA, an amalgam of untrained security guards whose ineptitude has been a constant source of amusement, scandal, and ineffectiveness ever since. Yeah, let's do that again, but with children and inept guards with guns instead. I agree, it's a subject worth discussing, but I find it odd that the regulation of gun sales in a manner similar to the way we regulate driver's licensing is somehow more worthy of the sneering claim of "denial" than the idea that more guns won't solve the problem of violence.
that there is nothing morally superior about being a sheepdog; it is
just what you choose to be. Also understand that a sheepdog is a funny critter: He is
around out on the perimeter, checking the breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a righteous battle. That is, the young sheepdogs yearn for a righteous battle. The
old sheepdogs are a little older
wiser, but they move to the sound of the guns when needed right along
with the young ones. He's really stretching this metaphor. I wonder how he deals with the cognitive dissonance in stating that there is nothing morally superior about yearning for a righteous battle while the sheep go stick their heads in the sand. Perhaps he simply doesn't really mean what he says, and is just trying to downplay the aggravated sense of moral superiority that he actually seems to have a very difficult time hiding.
Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog
think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep, that is, most citizens in America said, "Thank
God I wasn’t on one of those planes." The sheepdogs, the warriors, said, "Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those
planes. Maybe I could have made a difference." When you are
truly transformed into a warrior and have truly invested yourself into warriorhood, you
want to be there. You
want to be able
to make a difference. Most of the Citizens of the US are sheep. Well, on that we can agree, though perhaps for different reasons. I'd like to know, though, why he thinks that most people pretend that the wolf will never come, or that bad things will never happen. I think he misunderstands the motivations of people who aren't crazy about guns and violence. For myself, I know that bad things will happen, that there are batshit lunatic jihadists out there who want to kill me for saying that Mohammed was a murderous pedophile, and more charlatan than prophet--as are all prophets. The difference is that I choose not to live my life in fear. I am glad that there are men out there who want to prevent crazy people from destroying the lives of normal people, but the problem is that they are not always the best types of people to perceive where the actual threats are. To hijack Grossman's metaphor, I once saw a sheepdog bark at a squirrell in a tree for ten minutes while a fox happily kept an ear on him from the safety of the henhouse.
While there is nothing morally superior
about the sheepdog, the warrior, he does have
one real advantage. Only one. He is able to
survive and thrive in an environment that destroys 98 percent of the
population. Besides admitting that a sheepdog's only advantage doesn't necessarily have anything to do with critical thought, I think he again underestimates common people. I have been in some scary situations: I've had a gun pointed at me outside of Saddam's gigantic mosque, I was 100 yards away from an explosion in Iraq, and I walked weaponless down Karrada street, by myself, in Baghdad in broad daylight during the spring of 2004 to get some schwarma at a popular restaurant. I also used to drive a bus full of Iraqis every day down route Irish, the most dangerous road in the world at the time. I knew that something bad could happen, but I've always believed that if you live by the sword, you die by the sword. If I had had a gun when that Iraqi security guard caught me taking pictures of the mosque, he probably would not have stopped me to ask questions.
There was research conducted a few years ago with individuals convicted of violent crimes. These cons were in prison for serious, predatory acts of violence: assaults, murders and killing law enforcement officers. The vast majority said that they specifically targeted victims by body language: slumped walk, passive behavior and lack of awareness. They chose their victims like big cats do in Africa, when they select one out of the herd that is least able to protect itself.
However, when there were cues given by potential victims that indicated they would not go easily, the cons said that they would walk away. If the cons sensed that the target was a "counter-predator," that is, a sheepdog, they would leave him alone unless there was no other choice but to engage.
One police officer told me that he rode a commuter train to work each day. One day, as was his usual, he was standing in the crowded car, dressed in blue jeans, T- shirt and jacket, holding onto a pole and reading a paperback. At one of the stops, two street toughs boarded, shouting and cursing and doing every obnoxious thing possible to intimidate the other riders. The officer continued to read his book, though he kept a watchful eye on the two punks as they strolled along the aisle making comments to female passengers, and banging shoulders with men as they passed.
As they approached the officer, he lowered his novel and made eye contact with them. "You got a problem, man?" One of the IQ-challenged punks asked. "You think you're tough, or somethin'?" the other asked, obviously offended that this one was not shirking away from them.
"As a matter of fact, I am tough," the officer said, calmly and with a steady gaze.
The two looked at him for a long moment, and
then without saying a word, turned and moved back down the aisle to continue
their taunting of the other passengers, the sheep. I love this story. I've heard a hundred blowhards tell stories exactly like it. I'm not saying it's not possible, I'm just saying that 9 times out of 10, this is the way the guy imagines it will go down the next time, or if he had had his gun on him, or if New York street punks were still living in bad 1970's movies. I've also often noticed that stuffy authoritative types frequently mistake kids acting in a macho or overly confident manner--or who are simply having a noisy good time--as punks who are trying to throw their weight around. People who follow authority like sheep...dogs... don't like people who question and/or disrespect authority. Think I'm just making shit up? Hey, my anecdote is just as good as his.
Some people may be destined to be sheep and
others might be genetically primed to be wolves or sheepdogs. But I believe
that most people can choose which one they want to be, and I'm proud to say
that more and more Americans are choosing to become sheepdogs. Stats, please. Although, I don't disagree. There is a definite mindset in government offices that I see more and more of.
Seven months after the attack on September
11, 2001, Todd Beamer was honored in his hometown of Cranbury, New Jersey. Todd,
as you recall, was the man on Flight 93 over Pennsylvania who called on his
cell phone to alert an operator from United Airline about the hijacking. When
he learned of the other three passenger planes that had been used as weapons,
Todd dropped his phone and uttered the words, "Let's roll," which authorities
believe was a signal to the other passengers to confront the terrorist
hijackers. In one hour, a transformation occurred among the passengers--athletes,
business people and parents-- from sheep to sheepdogs and together they fought
the wolves, ultimately saving an unknown number of lives on the ground. Grossman is kind of all over the place with his sheepdog stuff. But I want to draw attention to the way he claims Todd Beamer as a sheepdog here. Beamer was a Christian who graduated from Wheaton College. He was a field marketing rep for Oracle, and he was not in the military and as near as I can determine, he never carried a gun. Now, he does fit the sheepdog mold in that he was ready to go into action, but as we will see, he also fits the sheep mold according to Grossman.
"Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live with yourself after that?"
"There is no safety for honest men except by believing all possible evil of evil men."
- Edmund Burke
Reflections on the Revolution in France
Here is the point I like to emphasize, especially to the thousands of police officers and soldiers I speak to each year. In nature the sheep, real sheep, are born as sheep. Sheepdogs are born that way, and so are wolves. They didn’t have a choice. But you are not a critter. As a human being, you can be whatever you want to be. It is a conscious, moral decision.
If you want to be a sheep, then you can be a sheep and that is okay, but you must understand the price you pay. When the wolf comes, you and your loved ones are going to die if there is not a sheepdog there to protect you. If you want to be a wolf, you can be one, but the sheepdogs are going to hunt you down and you will never have rest, safety, trust or love. But if you want to be a sheepdog and walk the warrior 's path, then you must make a conscious and moral decision every day to dedicate, equip and prepare yourself to thrive in that toxic, corrosive moment when the wolf comes knocking at the door.
For example, many officers carry their
weapons in church. They are well concealed in ankle holsters, shoulder holsters
or inside-the-belt holsters tucked into the small of their backs. Anytime you
go to some form of religious service, there is a very good chance that a police
officer in your congregation is carrying. You will never know if there is such
an individual in your place of worship, until the wolf appears to slaughter you
and your loved ones. I wonder if Jesus wished that he and his disciples were packing that day in Gethsemane?
I was training a group of police officers in
Texas, and during the break, one officer asked his friend if he carried his weapon
in church. The other cop replied, "I will never be caught without my gun
in church." I asked why he felt so strongly about this, and he told me about
a police officer he knew who was at a church massacre in Ft. Worth, Texas, in
1999. In that incident, a mentally deranged individual came into the church and
opened fire, gunning down 14 people. He said that officer believed he could
have saved every life that day if he had been carrying his gun. His own son was
shot, and all he could do was throw him on the boy’s body and wait to die. That
cop looked me in the eye and said, "Do you have any idea how hard it would
be to live with yourself after that?" Hey, that's a nice anecdote. I've got one too. One time this guy brought his gun to church, and he accidentally shot a young girl (the pastor's daughter, actually) in the head and killed her while showing it to a friend. He had a concealed weapons permit and everything, and being such a well-trained individual he was thus a guaranteed deterrent against church violence. I wonder how hard it was for him to live with himself after that?
Some individuals would be horrified if they
knew this police officer was carrying a weapon in church. They might call him
paranoid and would probably scorn him. Weird. Yet these same individuals would be
enraged and would call for "heads to roll" if they found out that the
airbags in their cars were defective, or that the fire extinguisher and fire
sprinklers in their kids' school did not work, or if some lunatic didn't have to pass a psych test before getting a concealed weapons permit. They can accept the fact that
fires and traffic accidents can happen and that there must be safeguards
against them. Their only response to the wolf, though, is denial, and all too
often their response to the sheepdog is scorn and disdain. But the sheepdog
quietly asks himself, "Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live
with yourself if your loved ones were attacked and killed, and you had to stand
there helplessly because you were unprepared for that day?" Or how hard it would be to live with yourself if, as a church pastor, you encouraged your "flock" to bring their concealed weapons to church and then some moron shot your daughter? "Shit," you'd say, "If only guns were better regulated."
It is denial that turns people into sheep. Sheep
are psychologically destroyed by combat because their only defense is denial,
which is counterproductive and destructive, resulting in fear, helplessness and
horror when the wolf shows up. Yes but, there are many truths about life which one can deny. If you deny that more guns mean more death, period, are you really a sheepdog? This denial turns you into a sheep of another kind. If you deny that US policies have had a direct effect on the desire for terrorists to attack us in the first place, what kind of sheep are you then? (I don't like Ron Paul, but when even right wing nuts like him start accepting facts, gun nuts like Grossman ought to do some soul-searching.)
Denial kills you twice. It kills you once,
at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: You didn't bring
your gun; you didn't train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not
a strategy. Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically
survive, you are psychologically shattered by fear, helplessness, horror and
shame at your moment of truth. This is where he really begins equating sheepdog-ness with gun-carrying. If you don't know how to use a gun and you don't have it with you, you are a sheep. Granted, he appears to be addressing cops and soldiers and if he was talking only about cops and soldiers being prepared in the line of duty then he would be far more difficult to argue with. But Grossman goes on the circuit on a regular basis in favor of the second amendment and more guns more guns! Guns in schools! Guns in church! If everyone had a gun and was prepared to use it, what could go wrong?
Chuck Yeager, the famous test pilot and first man to fly faster than the speed of sound, says that he knew he could die. There was no denial for him. He did not allow himself the luxury of denial. This acceptance of reality can cause fear, but it is a healthy, controlled fear that will keep you alive:
"I was always afraid of dying. Always. It was my fear that made me learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment_ and kept me flying respectful of my machine and always alert in the cockpit."
-Brigadier General Chuck Yeager
Yeager, An Autobiography
Gavin de Becker puts it like this in Fear Less, his superb post-9/11 book, which should be required reading for anyone trying to come to terms with our current world situation:
".. Denial can be seductive, but it has an insidious side effect. For all the peace of mind deniers think they get by saying it isn't so, the fall they take when faced with new violence is all the more unsettling. Denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level."
And so the warrior must strive to confront denial
in all aspects of his life, and prepare himself for the day when evil comes. How about confronting the denial that the world is an extremely dangerous place in large part thanks to US policies? And that perhaps the best way to get terrorists to stop being terrorists is to stop terrorising them?
If you are a warrior who is legally
authorized to carry a weapon and you step outside without that weapon, then you
become a sheep, pretending that the bad man will not come today. No one can be
"on" 24/7 for a lifetime. Everyone needs down time. But if you are
authorized to carry a weapon, and you walk outside without it, just take a deep
breath, and say this to yourself... "Baa." Todd Beamer walked out without a gun, and so did Chuck Yeager, two men he held up as prime examples of sheepdogs. Apparently you don't need a gun in order to combat either fear or terrorists, after all. I get that he's making a larger point about readiness, which I actually agree with. But his point about weaponry is erratic and full of bullet holes, and he is trying to falsely equate the two things. Bad things will happen, yes. But be strong and face life with your chin up and your eyes open, not with your mind closed and hiding behind a gun. In any case, Grossman's attempt to claim every hero as a sheepdog and then to turn around and say that real sheepdogs all carry guns is schizophrenic.
This business of being a sheep or a sheepdog
is not a yes-no dichotomy. It is not an all-or-nothing, either-or choice. It is
a matter of degrees, a continuum. On one end is an abject, head-in-the-grass
sheep and on the other end is the ultimate warrior. Few people exist completely
on one end or the other. Most of us live somewhere in between. Since 9-11
almost everyone in America took a step up that continuum, away from denial. The
sheep took a few steps toward accepting and appreciating their warriors and the
warriors started taking their job more seriously. The degree to which you move
up that continuum, away from sheephood and denial, is the degree to which you
and your loved ones will survive, physically and psychologically at your moment
of truth. Ah, the halcyon days of post 9-11. If only people lived in fear like that every day, and more easily allowed the eroding of civil liberties and the ascention of authoritative fascists bent on manipulating us through those fears. It's true, if I don't have a gun I might be less safe from terrorists or mass-murderers. But with a gun, I've surrendered my confidence to a piece of metal. I choose to carry my manhood somewhere else. Speaking in terms that Grossman would understand, I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees. In any case, there are no easy answers to Dave Grossman's deep and disturbing fears, but he is in a denial just as debilitating as that he envisions the rest of us are in when it comes to the reasoning of "wolves" and the best options for solving our problems of violence. He clearly holds a simple view of good and evil, cannot conceive that his "side" is not the Light Brigade, and thus can abide only a simple, aggressive solution and will deny that anyone who thinks differently is anything other than a sheep.