You have your concealed carry permit or perhaps live in a constitutional carry state that does not require one. You have received some training as well. There are hundreds of excellent instructors in the U.S. and many fine courses that teach movement, control, shot selection, and much more. Excellent. But you are not a cop. Cops have hundreds of hours, perhaps thousands in a lifetime, of serve-and-protect. You are not Captain America.
It seems that every week I read about someone using his or her handgun in a situation where he or she would better have backed away and allowed sworn officers to take over, even if those officers arrived after an offense took place and not in time to prevent it. I wonder that among those of us who carry, there is an occasional sense that we are unofficial peacekeepers, a tiny sense that we are armed, we are trained, and that because we are honest citizens, we have a right or maybe a responsibility to right the wrongs of an unjust society. That we may or should step in and get involved when we observe a crime in progress.
I’m not trying to overstate the case, but I believe it is worth giving a moment’s consideration. I’m not necessarily railing against criminals, middle class or otherwise, who pretend to be cops and try to arrest or harass someone—clearly a criminal activity. They usually get what they deserve: a hefty fine, jail time, and a permanent record as a convicted felon.
What I’m talking about is the guy who steps forward during a robbery or some street fracas because he (or she) has a concealed firearm, and attempts to stop some misconduct in progress. I wrote about this several years ago in a story about a Jacksonville, Florida citizen who killed an armed robber—yes, an ignorant teenager from the hood—at a Dollar General Store. Of course, the armed robber was carrying a pellet gun, but it looked real enough and if it had been real, the robber might have shot the frightened clerk or…who knows what. Chances are, however, that the robber would have grabbed the $50 or so from the cash register and run out the door. Instead, the concealed permit holder pulled his pistol, walked from the back of the store, confronted the teenager, and, when the surprised kid spun around, airgun in hand, the concealed carry holder shot him dead.
It’s easy to say something like “good riddance.” It’s easy to applaud the action of the concealed permit holder, to say the kid was a punk, a thug who would have led a life of crime and general social uselessness as a leech sucking up public benefits: free health care and food stamps and welfare as a baby-daddy. But that’s all conjecture.
So did the concealed carry holder, who was not in any way threatened until he interposed himself in the situation, do the right thing? After all, the store had security cameras that filmed thieves and it had insurance against loss, which would easily cover the $30 or $50 taken from the cash register.
When you pull your gun, anything can happen. Maybe the criminal isn’t some hapless teen armed with a pellet gun. Maybe there is an armed accomplice that you don’t see because you develop tunnel vision; or you shoot and miss because, in the heat of the moment, even trained cops miss more often than they hit their target. Maybe you wound the criminal or it appears later to a grand jury that you shot him in the back or—God forbid—some innocent bystander dies and suddenly you need a good legal team (and a good legal team is ruinously expensive).
It’s easy to become indignant about the ills of modern society, want to impose some vigilante justice when justice seems distant or impossible. We all want to wave a magic wand and cure cancer and crime, homelessness and road rage…but your gun is not a magic wand. The point I want to discuss with you is when should you step forward if your own life or the life and well-being of your loved ones are not endangered. It is your right to own a gun, but it is a privilege to carry concealed and at some point it is a sworn officer’s responsibility to stop a crime in progress. Having a concealed carry permit should give you confidence and make walking America’s streets safer, but it does not make you a cop.