The Armed Citizen’s “New Normal”

Rights come with responsibilities, and the 2nd Amendment is no exception to this rule.

posted on March 8, 2023
responsible gun owner

Liberty and responsibility are obverse sides of the same coin. Historian Russell Kirk once wrote, “Every right is married to a duty; every freedom owes a corresponding responsibility.” When we exercise our liberties, we assume responsibility for the consequences of that free exercise. I recently wrote about making the transition from gun owner to armed citizen, and making concealed-carry of a handgun part of everyday life. It is a wonderful thing to exercise our natural rights, but when we do so, the newfound responsibilities that accompany those rights will change our lives in certain ways. Becoming an armed citizen, one needs to accept a “new normal” in certain areas of their lives, and form new habits commensurate with the duties and responsibilities of a responsibly, lawfully armed citizen. These changes include how we pay attention to our surroundings, how we interact with others, and how much effort we put into our own skill.

Pay Attention!

While paying attention to one’s surrounding is a good idea for literally anyone, it becomes a duty for those who carry. When you decide to become an armed citizen, you are going into the public space with a lethal tool on your person. You are responsible to ensure that you act within the law and that your handgun never poses danger to the public at large. 

One aspect of this is paying attention to signage in public places that might restrict or prohibit carrying handguns. Some signage is legally binding and carries criminal penalties for violations, and other signage just reflects store or company policy that might result in being asked to leave if your handgun is noticed. Different states have varying laws on signage and areas prohibited for carry, and an armed citizen needs to know the local laws and laws wherever they travel. Remembering that one is armed, and paying attention to where they are sounds like a simple matter, but the number of people each year who run into trouble at TSA checkpoints, courthouse metal detectors and other areas suggest it bears mentioning. 

situational awareness fail

The other aspect of this responsibility is maintaining “situational awareness” of our surroundings for potential threats, so we don’t find ourselves vulnerable to losing control of our handgun. What does “situational awareness” mean? The late, great William Aprill summarized it as “…paying attention to who is around you, and what they are doing.” This requires minimizing use of our smart phones in public spaces, and dividing our attention between whomever we are with and what is happening around us. Again, we have a lethal tool on our person, and keeping it under our control is an essential duty. If I were to get sucker punched and knocked out cold in a parking lot by a strong-armed robber because I was texting my wife about what to get from the store, what would that robber find? Yep, the robber would find, and almost certainly steal, my concealed handgun. Not only is it prudent to pay attention to keep ourselves safe, but it is our duty to pay attention to our surroundings, not only to ensure our safety, but also to ensure we maintain control of our handguns at all times. Pay attention not only to keep yourself safe, but also to eliminate the possibility of a criminal surprising you and gaining access to your handgun.

Get Out of Trouble Before It Starts

Perhaps the most significant way our lives must change when we become armed citizens is in how we deal with potential or actual social conflict with others when we are armed. Based on the laws and ethics of self-defense, we have a duty to use lethal force only as a last resort and only to prevent death or serious bodily injury to ourselves or other innocent people. Implicit in this duty is the need to avoid unnecessary conflict whenever possible.

As armed citizens, we can use our increased vigilance to help us form the habit of avoidance. By paying close attention to our surroundings, particularly to people and situations that may pose a threat, we can spot and avoid trouble before we are decisively committed to dealing with it. For instance, when pulling into a truck stop, I scan the parking lot looking for any suspicious activity before I even put the vehicle in park. If the area seems sketchy, I don’t hesitate to drive away to another location. Whether it is a gathering of suspicious individuals or a loud domestic dispute in front of the entrance, I want no part of it. Our responsibility as armed citizens is to avoid precarious situations whenever possible.

Let It Go

de-escalation first, second and third

Road rage or parking lot arguments and fistfights are never a good idea, but absolutely unacceptable when armed. Armed citizens need to commit to habitual de-escalation in social conflict. I’m not talking about making yourself a human doormat, but I am saying that in every friction-filled social interaction, we need to asks ourselves, “Is this matter worth fighting over, potentially having to take a life, going through the legal process, and possibly getting sued over?” I consider it a duty to avoid petty social conflict with strangers, because the “You can’t talk to me that way!” attitude may escalate a situation into a more serious conflict. If you’re armed, then there is a gun in the situation, so the situation needs to be avoided or de-escalated if at all possible. When I am armed, I can’t risk a fistfight over a parking dispute. Not every extended middle-finger on the road or step on the toes needs a response, and most of the time ignoring slights and calming things down is the way to go. An armed citizen has a responsibility to look for ways to calm or de-escalate social friction and conflict whenever possible.

Train and Practice

Another responsibility we accept as armed citizens is to gain and maintain a modicum of baseline competence. Those who shoot recreationally are free to let their guns gather dust in the safe if life gets busy, but for those of us who arm ourselves daily, we have a moral duty to become and remain competent. Every time we press the trigger on a live round we are sending a bullet into the world, and we are accountable for it. An errant bullet could mean a lawsuit and bankruptcy or a jail cell, so we owe it to our families, our communities, and ourselves to be competent. If we need to use a gun in self-defense, our most recent practice session being six months to a year in the past is not ideal. So take a quality handgun class every year or two. Go to the range every two or three months as your ammo budget allows and practice deliberately. Spend 10-15 minutes at least once or twice a month doing dry-fire training on your drawstroke or trigger press.  The armed citizen needs to be competent, and so our duty is to gain and maintain the competence that makes our families, communities, and ourselves safer.

Ultimately, I welcome and encourage any responsible, law-abiding citizen to join the armed citizenry if they are interested in doing so. However, it is not a choice to be made lightly, and we must recognize that exercise of our rights bestows certain responsibilities on us. We must pay attention to our surroundings, so that we may stay within the law and out of trouble. We must learn how to remain calm and deescalate tense situations rather than make them worse. We must train and practice so that we are capable of doing good and avoiding ever harming innocents. If we embrace these responsibilities and make them our new normal, we can carry with confidence as we exercise our rights and keep our loved ones and ourselves safe.


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