Unless of course you’re talking about an actual dog that herds and/or protects sheep, stop using the word sheepdog. It’s stupid, and it encourages a toxic mindset that ruins lives. You think I’m kidding? You know who thought he was a sheepdog? George Zimmerman. How’d that work out? Sure, he was legally justified, but he ended up killing a guy who probably didn’t need killing, and has now had his life completely ruined. All because he was a “sheepdog.”
Now, let’s backtrack a little bit. Most of you are going to read that first paragraph and jump down to the comments section anyway, so I can take the next several hundred words to go into detail here. Last week I wrote a post called “Five reasons you’re carrying your EDC wrong” which included the following section:
3. You think you’re a sheepdog
You’re not a sheepdog. You’re just a dude. And there is literally nothing wrong with being “just a dude.” When you get this idea in your head that you’re carrying a gun to “protect your community” you’re going about it the wrong way. Carrying a gun should be a boring, mundane, thing. You get up, you put your pants on, your clip your knife in your pocket, you buckle on your gun. The same as buckling your seat belt. You don’t do it because you’re cool, you do it because you’re a responsible adult who takes care of his own safety.
Predictably, certain parts of the internet got rather hurt in the ass about that, specifically the gun related sections of Reddit and Dave Grossman fanboys (some crossover). People who think of themselves as sheepdogs. But before I can deconstruct this term, I want to look at what part of it people get so attached to. You can pretty much draw everyone’s romantic association with the term back to this paragraph by Grossman:
But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.
That does sound rad, and it’s easy to see how people would get attached to that, because it does important things for the average CCW holder’s mind. Primarily, it feeds the ego. It makes you feel special, different. It sets you apart because you’re different in a good way. That kind of thinking is absolutely addictive, it’s like crack. Once you get a taste you can’t get enough. And the best part of it? No effort is required. You don’t have to join the military, be a cop, take any sort of training, you can just show up with your CCW and say “I’m a sheepdog” and think that makes you special.
It doesn’t. And in fact, that sort of mindset gets people killed. This is where we revisit the tragic case of George Zimmerman. And it is tragic, because a person is dead and another man’s life is ruined. Whenever this topic comes up, people who claim to be sheepdogs and defend the idea always have this idealized version of how things go down in their head. To these people, it’s always clear cut: you come across a masked man with a machete about to rape and murder a cute blonde girl or a little old lady. You whip out your CCW Badge, yell “SHEEPDOG! DROP THE KNIFE, SCUMBAG” and then when he turns to attack you, drop him with two well placed shots from your Kimber 1911. Always clean cut, always neat and tidy. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t really care about your sheepdog fantasy land.
This is where everything falls apart, and where my problem with the use of the term really begins. As humans, we excel at many things. Foremost on that list? Lying to ourselves. That really is the problem with the whole concept of “the sheepdog.” Because it feeds the ego and because there’s no effort required to become a sheepdog, it’s easy to slide ourselves into the idea that we’re better than all the people around us because we carry a gun. It creates a mental divide between citizens, where these self-appointed sheepdogs look down on people who choose not to carry. It’s so easy to slip into that. I fall prey to it all the time in small ways. What’s tremendously ironic is that the people who refer to themselves as sheepdogs are also frequently the most vocal critics of “militarized policing” – yet they’re guilty of the same “us vs. them” mindset that they criticize the police for having.
A concealed carry permit isn’t a junior G-man badge, and it’s not a license to go looking to get into someone else’s gunfight. I’m not saying don’t get involved, in fact I want to say the exact opposite. What’s most toxic about the way the term sheepdog is used today is just what I stated above, that it creates and feeds a culture of us vs. them. The truth is that we’re not protectors of our community, we’re not warrior-heroes walking the path of righteousness. Most of us, myself included, are just folk. I’m just a guy who carries a gun because I want to have the most effective tool available to defend my life, and the lives of my family members. I’m not saying don’t get involved, in fact I would encourage you to get more involved. If you claim to be a sheepdog but you don’t know your neighbor’s names, you’re just lying to yourself. If you really believe you should protect your community, don’t set yourself apart from it. Be a part of it. Get to know your neighbors, create relationships. If George Zimmerman had really been a part of his community, he wouldn’t have been patrolling the neighborhood alone after dark. Those are the actions of someone who has set himself apart from the people around him, someone who’s invested more in his own self-image than the actual safety and protection of his fellow citizens.
Here we are, 1000 words in. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for actually reading the article. I want you to take this one point away from this entire thing: there is nothing wrong with wanting to protect your community. There’s nothing wrong with carrying a gun, with getting training, and with being active and involved in your community. Why I hate the term sheepdog is simple. It allows people to mentally set themselves apart from the very same people they claim to be protecting. Don’t set yourself apart from the people around. Be a part of the community, get to your know your neighbors. I’d much rather be a neighbor than a sheepdog.