In his book “On Killing” Col. David Grossman categorizes the elements of society into three general groups: the sheep, the wolves, and the sheepdogs. The sheep, are the multitudes of average people that go through their day oblivious, and unaware of their surroundings. The wolves, are the bad guys. The predators. The criminals. Those who would take advantage of others, and are only looking

for the weakest of the sheep upon which to prey. Then, there are the sheepdogs.

The sheepdogs are those who protect their flock of sheep from the wolves. They stay alert, they watch for trouble. If the wolf gets too close they stand ready to fend them off, by using force if necessary. They may be the police who patrol our communities, they might be the security guard standing post in a business. Or, they might be you – if you have made the commitment to be vigilant, aware, and alert as you go about your daily activities.

As a police officer, I was trained in the skill of “JDLR” or, “Just Don’t Look Right.” It’s mid-July, 95 degrees outside, and a guy is walking into a liquor store wearing a full length trench coat. Could it be he’s a bit chilled? Or, might he be wearing that garment to conceal a long barreled firearm with which he plans to robe the store? Either way – he and his attire are very much out of place, and as a result, an alert person who was watching should notice and be prepared for a possible problem.

You can practice similar observation skills on your own. Go to a mall, or similar location where a lot of people congregate. I often do this myself when I go shopping with my wife at the mall. My interest soon wanes, and I find myself sitting on a bench, just watching the people. It’s amazing how many are not paying attention to their surroundings. How many are too involved to notice they may be at risk. Their purses left unwatched on the floor next to them. Their focus directed one direction, while a potential risk is approaching from another.

While the sheep go about their business, those who are alert and watching – will often notice or spot one another, since if you are alert and watching, you notice how that other person is also watching and alert. These visual interactions are not challenging, the eye contact is not to create a conflict, they are more in the “I’m just checking you out to see what’s going on” variety – at least at first. The only question, is this other person a wolf? Or a sheepdog? If a sheepdog, they will quickly size you up, and soon decide you are not a current threat, then return to “watching the flock” although checking back every now and then to make sure you have not become a problem.

A wolf, however will react differently. The more you hold eye contact, they more nervous they will become. This is where your eye contact will become more of a challenge – I know you are there, and you know I know, so now what? They know that they have been identified, and because they now risk being caught if they stay, will generally break eye contact, and decide to move on – to find a flock without a sheepdog present, some unprotected sheep to prey upon.

Wolves and other predators seek weak victims as their prey. They use the element of surprise, and move quickly to act – before the victim can react. If they have been noticed and identified – they have lost the element of surprise. If they now choose to take action, they have lost their advantage, and may need to fight a prepared and potentially capable opponent – instead of a weak victim. Even if the sheepdog is not the prey, they can warn the victim, call for help, or even take steps to intervene – either directly, or by being able to identify the wolf and cause them to be captured.

If you choose to carry a firearm for self-defense, the role of sheepdog is one with which you will need to be familiar. First, as an armed person, you have an obligation to remain aware and alert to your surroundings. Should someone choose you to be their victim, you need to have recognized the possibility in advance, so you have the greatest chance of preventing the attack, or stopping it as quickly as possible once an attack has started. This is an obligation to yourself, and those who you care about who may be with you when an attack occurs.

Owning a piano does not make you a musician. Owning a firearm, and carrying it – does not mean you are able to fight with a gun, or defend yourself in a violent encounter. You need to not only make the commitment to purchase and carry a gun, you need to make the commitment to get training and learn how to fight with a gun – this is much different than just “being able to shoot a gun.”

If you are violently attacked by surprise and when you are unaware – the firearm you carry is likely to be taken from you, and very likely used against you and those with you. However, if you are armed, trained, and aware of your surroundings, the chance you will be attacked is greatly reduced. If you have identified a potential wolf, and are aware they are approaching you with intent to commit violence, you will be prepared and ready to fight back – and odds are, you will be successful in your defense.

The advantages of moving from the role of the oblivious sheep to the alert and aware sheepdog are numerous. If you are reading this, the chances are you are more likely to take care of yourself than need to rely on someone else to do it for you. Those who must wait until police respond to fend off the wolves put themselves at great disadvantage – when seconds count, the police are minutes away…

Prevention is always better than trying to cure the ailment. You don’t need to be an expert, you don’t need special training, you just need to pay attention. Remember the story of the two campers who awake in the morning to the sight of a grizzly bear charging toward them. One starts to put on his shoes – the other says “you’ll never be able to out run that bear” the other replies – “I don’t have to, I only need to outrun YOU!” Pay attention, look and act like a sheepdog (or even an alert sheep), and the wolf will most likely seek other, weaker and unaware prey.

Eyes-up, look around. Listen to what is going on and keep those ear-buds in your pocket when out and about. Don’t look down and get sucked into your smarty-pants phone where you mentally shut out the potential dangers around you. By paying attention, and being aware of your surroundings, you give yourself the best chance of avoiding being a victim, or succeeding should you need to defend yourself.