The Cornered Cat

As armed citizens, our job is to stay safe and keep our loved ones safe. That’s the core of self defense. It’s not about justice, it’s not about fairness, it’s not about what anybody “deserves.” It’s just about staying safe and keeping our loved ones safe.

Capturing criminals is not your job. (Of course you already know this! But bear with me… there’s a point coming shortly.) You might, incidentally, catch an offender for the cops or send a real bad guy to the morgue while you’re defending yourself, but apprehending lawbreakers really isn’t your job. We cheer when it happens, but we also know it’s not the real goal. It’s just a sometimes-this-happens positive side effect of good people protecting themselves from violent crime.

By the same token, protecting your life, or the life of any other individual person, really isn’t the cops’ job, no matter what it says on the side of the car. Their actual job is simply to catch people who have broken the law, and bring those people in front of a judge. The officers might, incidentally, protect you from harm when they catch a particular bad guy, but as the courts have repeatedly found, protecting you is not their job. 1 We cheer when it happens, and every good cop loves to save lives, but that doesn’t mean it’s the primary job. It’s not. It’s just a sometimes-this-happens positive side effect of the police enforcing the general orderliness of society by catching criminals.

When someone builds their mindset, tactics and training around giving bad guys what they “deserve,” that’s bad. It’s not bad for some snooty moral reason, but because it puts the focus in a dangerously bad place. That misplaced focus on doing the cops’ job means that all too often they neglect their own job of staying safe and protecting the people they love.

Emotionally satisfying but tactically unsound, this misplaced focus makes good people more likely to fail, more likely to die, more likely to hurt people they don’t want to hurt.


  1.   A nuance here: cops who want to keep their commissions do have a “duty to act” to save lives where possibleAnd good people in law enforcement (there are many!) take their oaths to serve and protect very, very seriously indeed. Still, you as a private citizen have no reasonable expectation that any officer or agency will protect you personally, nor can you sue them or fire them for failing to save you if something criminally horrible happens to you — even if it happens right in front of them, even if you called for help and they didn’t lift a finger to help you because it was shift change, even if your neighbors told them repeatedly that there was an intruder who had trapped you in your home and that you needed to be rescued, even if you called 911 again and again, for hours, as your friends were being beaten and raped to death and you were sure you were going to be next, even if you had a restraining order that they failed to enforce and the violator of that restraining order killed your babies while the cops failed to do anything about what was happening. My law enforcement friends get cranky when bloggers take the shortcut of saying “it’s not the police’s job to protect you,” because they know they are required to act — by the agency and the terms of their employment and almost always by the strict wording of the black letter of the law in their jurisdiction. They know they’re not allowed to just drive on by when there’s trouble and that they’ll be in deep stink if they do. And they do take those oaths to heart. But. The courts have repeatedly said to private citizens, even in the most horrible of instances: Forget about all that. You’re on your own. Protecting you, individually, isn’t their job.

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