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Further Discussion on Ethical Carry
Disregard for or denial of the need for ethics in how we exercise the right to bear arms is placing this fundamental right in far more jeopardy than any Leftist designs.
After the various responses to my newsletter last week about “ethical carry,” it seems obvious that the emotions engendered by the back-and-forth on the Rittenhouse case were still too raw for the kind of conversation I was trying to engender.
It was not my intention to initiate yet another round of debate on the facts of the case. I was trying to initiate a conversation among gun owners that considers the point that how we choose to exercise our right to bear arms can have both legal and lethal consequences and can affect the broader security of this fundamental right.
I understand the specifics of the Rittenhouse case, and my attempt to use the scenario to make some broader points proved ineffectual given that everyone is still aggressively in their corners on an issue that is still at the forefront of so many minds.
As a political writer, it is always difficult to get the timing right on these kinds of pieces. You don’t want to “miss the boat” and let an opportunity to bring up serious and important considerations slip away by letting an issue lapse from public attention. And yet “broader perspective” pieces often prove ineffectual while people are in the midst of their passions. I think, unfortunately, that last week’s newsletter was timed poorly.
However, things are as they are, and the topic has been breached. I’d rather move on, but I feel I need to assert the broader points I’m trying to make one last time, if only for the sake of clarity in the face of such an aggressive (and sometimes hostile) response. Given the emotions I witnessed last week on social media, I don’t necessarily expect any better feedback to this newsletter. But, in the face of a pretty clear misunderstanding of my intentions, I feel it’s important to try and clarify my position before moving on to other topics.
The Rittenhouse scenario is being heralded as a victory for proponents of the second amendment, and Rittenhouse himself is being held up as a hero. While I agree with the not-guilty verdict, and I believe that Rittenhouse had every right to defend himself that night, I nevertheless disagree that this overall scenario is a victory for the right to bear arms and that Rittenhouse’s choices that night should be held up as exemplary.
First and foremost, regardless of any of the specific aspects of the Rittenhouse case, my assertion stands that it is not difficult to foresee intersecting claims of self-defense in any given scenario. A crucial part of ethically carrying a firearm is to not provoke others into believing they should fear for themselves.
My point is that performative open carry, patrol carry, low ready, militant behavior and dress, and a tactical presence can be, in and of themselves, provocative acts, especially in volatile situations. The people who are confronted by such circumstances have a right to self-defense as well, and, as I pointed out last week, self-defense requires only a reasonable belief that someone's life is in danger, which is not a difficult burden to meet.
Again, I wasn’t arguing the specifics of the Rittenhouse scenario. I was arguing that the pro-gun community failed Rittenhouse by engendering a culture that lacks ethical consideration and led to an untrained seventeen-year-old inserting himself into a situation that got people killed, could have gotten himself killed, and led to a lengthy legal process that could have resulted in serious criminal consequences.
I guess I just thought we should have this conversation now before another young man, responding to all the praise being heaped on Rittenhouse, inserts himself into a volatile situation, with a gun, that he neither has the training nor maturity to handle properly and ends up with a prison sentence or gets himself killed.
The difference, for example, between the Rittenhouse scenario and the Ahmaud Arbery scenario rests a great deal on rapid choices made in volatile situations. When a situation comes down to the intersection of self-defense rights, all bets are off when it comes to who lives, who dies, and who ends up facing legal consequences. Gregory and Travis McMichael, for example, both had law enforcement experience and training. Yet, they escalated a situation that led to the death of Arbery in a way that triggered his equal right to self-defense and has made them culpable in an act of murder.
At the end of the day, Rittenhouse, who had far less training and experience than the McMichaels, is lucky that his decision to take the law into his own hands turned out as it did. Absent a badge and absent any legal authority, the insertion of a gun into a volatile situation by a private citizen carries with it the strong possibility of serious lethal and legal consequences.
Major ethical considerations must go into bearing arms and deploying arms in defense of ourselves and others. That I have seen so many responses to last week’s newsletter that have essentially said, “There are no ethical considerations to how we bear arms, only in how we use them,” is just absolutely shocking.
If gun culture has reached a point where so many gun owners believe and assert an “anything goes” attitude to how they carry their weapons and how they comport themselves in public, it truly becomes difficult to defend ourselves against those who want to assert that we are menaces to the public peace.
How are we supposed to effectively defend our rights if we refuse to consider the ethics of carrying deadly weapons on our persons or if we no longer believe it’s important to communicate to our fellow citizens that we are ordinary, law-abiding citizens exercising a fundamental right rather than militants and discontents threatening political violence and engaging in acts of vigilantism.
There is, for example, a great deal of difference between carrying a firearm for personal defense and the defense of others in a way calculated to ensure we are not presenting a menacing posture to our fellow citizens and an open demonstration of arms in an effort to police our fellow citizens. This difference is between being a true minuteman, prepared to respond in defense of ourselves and our fellow citizens at a minute’s notice, and being militants and vigilantes who arbitrarily seek to exert force and the threat of force to control the actions of others.
To protect our rights, we must have an ethical framework for exercising our rights in the protection of ourselves and others so that our ethical intentions are clear and to ensure we don't bring the strawman arguments against us to life. Again, I'm suggesting that things like performative open carry, militant garb/behavior, and, especially, carrying rifles at low ready and patrol carry telegraph aggression and a threatening demeanor. These are messages that, in highly volatile situations, can easily be interpreted as threats.
At the end of the day, Rittenhouse and others who "patrolled" the streets that night didn't accomplish anything. They didn't stop the rioting. They didn't stop the looting. They didn't protect anything because, legally, they couldn't. You can't shoot looters, and you can't shoot rioters. A citizen can't give lawful orders. A citizen can't use force when their non-lawful orders and commands are ignored. At the end of the day, armed citizens cannot replace the police.
The constitutional right to bear arms is connected to two fundamental human rights: the right to self-defense and the right to rebel against tyrannical government. The right of self-defense can only be exercised against clear threats to ourselves and others. The right to rebel against tyrannical government can only be exercised when all courses of redress are exhausted and a “design to reduce [us] under absolute despotism” can be articulated.
Absent a clear threat to ourselves and others, there’s no tactical nor logical reason to let anyone know we’re carrying a firearm beyond a desire to engage in virtue signaling. We can’t use our firearm absent a clear threat, so what purpose is there in wielding a gun or demonstrating that we’re armed? It’s unethical, performative, irresponsible, and invites restrictions of our rights as we demonstrate the inability to exercise our rights ethically.
Absent designs of absolute despotism, there’s no responsible or ethical reason to parade ourselves as militants nor to engage in vigilante actions where we attempt to take the law into our own hands. In the first case, we invite government retaliation as we project threats of political violence and showcase a desire to engage in violent insurrection. In the second case, we attempt to exercise authority we don’t have against our fellow citizens and invite tragedy as our fellow citizens respond to unlawful and extra-legal attempts to control them. Parading as militants and/or taking the law into our own hands is unethical, performative, irresponsible, and invites restrictions of our rights as we demonstrate the inability to exercise our rights ethically.
People can call the Rittenhouse verdict a victory for the right to bear arms, and to the extent that it protects the right to self-defense, it is. But the overall situation is a defeat to the right to bear arms because it is solidifying a large portion of the country's view that gun owners are violent discontents who are looking for excuses to use their weapons and will celebrate the tragic scenarios when they are used and herald as heroes people who try to take the law into their own hands.
I continue to firmly believe that the best defense of the right to bear arms is to demonstrate to others that I, a gun owner, am not a threat to others. I believe that the exercise of ethics and responsibility in exercising my rights is the surest defense for my rights.
I believe that every time I demonstrate that the smears against gun owners from the Left are false, that I open someone's mind and soften someone's heart. And, I believe that every time one of my fellow gun owners lives up to the smears against us, that someone's mind is closed, and someone's heart is hardened.
In the wake of the Rittenhouse verdict, I see a lot of closed minds and hardened hearts, and it troubles me that people are celebrating when the reality is that Rittenhouse's choices, and the culture that led him to make those choices, have placed my rights in more jeopardy and not less.