Long Guns as a Show of Force: Careful Considerations

My opinions on the limited role of long guns for civilian self-defense are not popular.  Why would they be?  What could be more fun than taking a carbine class?  How can one rely on the pistol, a platform that takes an enormous investment in training just to reach baseline proficiency, when everyone with an AR15 in hand is instantly capable? 

I understand this, and I think all American citizens should have an AR15.  If they did, the world would be a different place, as we know.  I think long guns are an integral part of preparedness and they should be maintained and trained with, and kept for their appropriate role.  It is that role, however, that becomes a confusing issue. 

The most common civilian role for the long gun is for home defense when the family is barricaded in the safe room.  At such a time an AR15 or shotgun is the obvious, best choice.  Rifles should also be maintained at the ready for a collapse of social order and massive civil unrest in which the criminal element runs wild.  These are certainly roles for the long gun.

A potentially legitimate role for the rifle, though limited, is as a show of force.  Think back to the famous Korean shop keepers in the LA Riots who protected their businesses by posting on roofs with rifles in hand.  When appropriate, the display of multiple citizens, armed with rifles, clearly signifies that the encroachment of violence will not be allowed or tolerated.  However, the use of the long gun as a show of force is fraught with peril and should be considered carefully before being employed in such a role. 

PSA: going to Starbucks with slung rifles is not an appropriate use of long guns. 

Four well-publicized incidents that I can think of regarding long guns as a display of force which have transpired in the past few years have all ended poorly.  In all four incidents I believe the use of a long gun as a display of force contributed to the bad outcome:

The Kyle Rittenhouse Shootings:  Rittenhouse acted absolutely within the law and every shot he fired was in legitimate self-defense; anyone who would argue otherwise simply has a leftist agenda that trumps their reason.  There is an argument to be made that a 17-year-old being at the riot was unwise, but even that is not an argument I wish to wade into.  Here, I simply point out the “tactical” element of the situation related to wearing a slung long gun; in this particular situation the open display of the gun was a shit magnet and actually attracted attention from the scumbags rather than ward it off.  There is no denying this.  While Rittenhouse was only 17 at the time and could not carry a handgun, I would argue that, for an adult in the situation, a concealed handgun would be the better option during such a circumstance where an individual would be moving around during such rioting rather than staying put at a specific position. 

The McCloskeys:  The now-famous couple in St. Louis, that came out of their home and pointed guns at a mob that entered the private, gated, neighborhood, found themselves being maliciously prosecuted by a leftist prosecutor.  I firmly believe that the McCloskeys were justified in their actions as people have the right to protect their home from a violent mob, though their tactical decisions were poor.  Staying in the home and preparing to defend it was in order, not making a show of force in the front lawn.  Also, pointing guns at people is not warranted unless they are in the process of trying to harm you, so that hurt their case as they appear to have pointed muzzles at people rather than keep muzzles pointed in a safer direction.  Slung rifles in such a circumstance make more sense than holding a rifle and pointing it at random individuals in a crowd.  While I believe any prosecution of these people is not justified, this show of force was not well thought out and illustrates the overall peril of doing so, if done poorly.  This particular incident was conducted poorly by people with no training.

The Arbury Killing:  This is an unfortunate incident in which a man was killed by civilians carrying out a supposed “citizen’s arrest.”  At the point that Mr. Arbury was killed one of the citizens working to arrest him pulled in front of him in a truck to cut off his escape and stepped out of the vehicle with a shotgun in hand.  Arbury rushed the shotgun wielder and in the struggle that ensued over the gun Arbury was killed.  The three men involved in this attempted citizen’s arrest have all been sentenced to murder, and I would suggest that, from the perspective of the man killed, if a pickup truck pulled in front to detain you and a guy stepped out with shotgun in hand, would you be justified in immediately burning him down with your concealed carry handgun?  Yes, you would.  So, again, I see an illogical deployment of a long gun as a show of force in this case that ended in disaster. 

The Texas Custody Incident:  This is a horrible event in which an ex-husband was killed during a domestic dispute between he and his ex-wife and her new partner.  At some point in the argument, which up to that point was only verbal with no physical violence, the new significant other of the wife retrieves a rifle from the house and tells the ex-husband to leave.  A struggle ensues over the gun and the ex-husband gets shot dead.  Again, a poorly timed display of a long gun is at the center of the issue here.  The deployment of the rifle did not send the enraged ex-husband running, but it made him call the bluff and a tragedy resulted from this.  A far better strategy would have been a concealed handgun, which should not have come out at this point in the confrontation anyway, and the use of OC spray to diminish the aggressive ex-husband if necessary. 

What these incidents all have in common is that the introduction of a long gun into the event escalated the situation rather than resolve it.  I can’t see how we can objectively conclude otherwise. 

I know that some reading this will think that I have an invested agenda:  my blog is named Reflex Handgun.  I teach the use of the handgun.  The majority of my writing is on concealed carry.  I write for high-profile concealed carry specific sites.  Therefore, you may conclude that I am exclusively a handgunner and wish to force reality through my own lens.  You might infer that I would prefer to see you skip those carbine classes and train with handgunners like me instead.  This is not the case.  I can run an AR15 better than most and I maintain and train with defensive long guns and promote their use where they are appropriate. 

What I believe, however, is that many a lover of the modern sporting rifle wishes to envision all potential problems that may arise being ones that will be solved with the rifle, a platform they are far more confident in than their pistol.  Afterall, who in their right mind would want to be in a gunfight with a handgun instead of a rifle?  Well, that is true, but I would ask who in their right mind wants to be an any gunfight to begin with?  Therein lies the rub.  The handgun is not a tool we carry because we are looking for gunfights, it is a tool we carry in case unexpected violence visits us.  The long gun is a proactive affair.  When a long gun is brought to bear it is, indeed, a display of force that may or may not be warranted and if the deployment of the long gun is wrongly timed it can throw gasoline on the fire. 

Consider the contemporary American society itself: we don’t like to even see law enforcement walking around with rifles, it is not the norm.  Cops with handguns is the norm.  in most of the country civilians with concealed handguns is the norm.  Openly carried rifles are not the norm and it attracts attention immediately.  Interestingly, in Europe, where the peasants are unarmed, they think nothing of police officers walking around with rifles.  In the United States, however, we don’t accept it from actors of the state or from private citizens.  We consider it a display of force. 

Consider this carefully and act accordingly.  Keeping a low profile is a mandatory element of avoiding trouble.  There is nothing low profile about walking around with a long gun or introducing one into an argument at the wrong time. 

6 thoughts on “Long Guns as a Show of Force: Careful Considerations

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  1. This post is the sort of critical thinking that I appreciate about Reflex Handgun. I find it increasingly ironic that often the very people who like to consider themselves to be “sheepdogs” are just as susceptible to sheep-like thinking as any other group, and you see the same stuff regurgitated over and over as unquestionable dogma. As the old saying goes, “If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.”

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  2. I think open carry of most any kind is pretentious and problematic. Your post sums up many of the reasons for both issues. There are extenuating circumstances, as you’ve noted such as the rooftop Koreans, where it might be warranted. But generally, people who walk around flaunting their firepower make others feel uncomfortable, including myself who is a daily CC. I value weapons as tools for certain tasks. When I see them displayed, I ask to what end? I would ask the same question if a carpenter walked into McDonald’s wearing his tool belt with a drill slung on the side. Or similarly, if a window cleaner walked into the bank with his cleaning belt full of gear and carrying his washing wand over his shoulder. Our private concerns are just that. They invade other’s privacy and feelings of safety when we put our “power” on display.

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    1. I completely agree. I am absolutely opposed to open carry, especially long guns save for a select few cercomstances. Even the open carry of handguns is unsound most of the time, though in certain environments it turns no heads, but such environments are few.

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  3. There is a lot of “meat” in this commentary. I avoid posting on any Internet for a or sites, because there is “no percentage” in it. But after reading the comments that precede this one, I think maybe exposre to an alternate viewpoint might be useful.

    This is no knock on the author. It is courageous enough that he would suggest on a “gun site” that everyone should not go down to the corner store for milk armed with an AR.

    So, thoughts in the order presented:

    “I think all American citizens should have an AR15. If they did, the world would be a different place, as we know. “

    “As we know?” Who is “we,” and what do we know? I know, and know of, a LOT of people who incompetent, mentally unstable, intemperate, violent, hopelessly stupid and just plain criminal. Then there are otherwise reasonable people who are untrained or so poorly trained they present a danger to others. I do not “know” that such people “should be” armed with auto-loading rifles. We can debate what can or should be done about that problem. But I do NOT think everyone “should be” armed with an AR-15.

    “I firmly believe that the McCloskeys were justified in their actions as people have the right to protect their home from a violent mob, though their tactical decisions were poor.”

    I agree their tactical decisions were very poor, assuming they were motivated as they declared they were. But there is no reason to just assume the McCloskeys were “under immediate threat from a violent mob,” or they were in fact trying to defend themselves.

    There is dispute over the level or actual threat presented by the “mob” (which is itself a loaded word). The positions people take on that point invariably follow their politics. But I do see that the “violent mob” did not manage to break a window, knock down a mailbox, or muss the McClosyey’s hair. Some threat. Or perhaps we should conclude the mere sight of a couple of fatsos waiving guns around and talking trash drove the entire bloodthirsty engine of destruction to ground? One would think that a at least one or two members of a “violent mob” would be armed, or at least prepared to do violence.

    Moreover, having feared for my life before, and having seen lots of people in fear for their lives, I cannot be convinced that one actually in fear of his life would decide to parade around in front of the supposed “threat,” waiting to be shot, beaten or whatever. People who think they are about to be killed find a hole to crawl into, or, at least, seek cover. They do not parade around and make a show.

    Facts matter. Political agendas only blind us.

    [Regarding the Arbury killing.] “So, again, I see an illogical deployment of a long gun as a show of force in this case that ended in disaster.”

    That was not an “illogical deployment of a long gun.” It was the deliberate use of a long gun in the course of committing a number of serious felonies. It was a lynching. I’m going to chalk this one up as a poor choice of an example.

    The Korean store owners in the LA riots 20 years ago are cited as an example of an “appropriate” display of long guns:

    “Think back to the famous Korean shop keepers in the LA Riots who protected their businesses by posting on roofs with rifles in hand. When appropriate, the display of multiple citizens, armed with rifles, clearly signifies that the encroachment of violence will not be allowed or tolerated. However, the use of the long gun as a show of force is fraught with peril and should be considered carefully before being employed in such a role.”

    Those store owners had a right to use long guns to protect their property. But why do we overlook how very dangerous, even foolish, standing up on the roof with a rifle in had really is? I agree it is “fraught with peril,” but I go a lot further.

    Standing with a long gun in hand – deliberately displaying oneself – is only a good idea if one is confident the looters are only interested in taking radios and tennis shoes, and would prefer a softer target. But that expectation is, at best, only a THEORY. And while the theory may be correct for 197 of the 200 “them” in the street, what if the other three out of the 200 are just nut-cases out for blood?

    My theory that a street full or rioters will contain at least a few armed sociopaths is solid as any. And that kind of lunatic can just snipe Mr. Shopkeeper off the roof for the hell of it. Or, if they really want what’s in that store, they can just pick him off and go right ahead. Standing atop one’s store in an exposed, fixed position just to be ominous and scary may be all glorious and brave and defiant, but it is also tactical nonsense and very foolish.

    People who like to display their rifle as a political statement, or as a “warning” about how all very bad-assed they are, tend to forget they are not the only ones in town who own rifles.

    Which brings me back to the idea that the whole world would be better if everyone had a rifle.

    I suggest the only time one should let it be known they are armed with a long gun is when having the rifle affords a necessary advantage, and revealing the fact that one is so armed is unavoidable. I do not see there is ever any benefit to brandishing a long gun (except as a morale boost to those who think it makes them look tough and powerful, and will protect them by scaring off the lesser beings).

    Just my two cents. And again, I commend the author for even daring to suggest that displaying a long gun is not (or at least not always) a good idea.

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  4. What are you thoughts on a semiauromatic machine type pistol in these situations? Think a Beretta, Glock, or SIG SAUER with a magazine sleeve-equipped thirty round magazine and a muzzle brake, too? Agreed with the pepper spray, I carry four cans on my key ring. You can afford a Canik TP9, Ruger American o Pro or PSA AR-15, but you can afford a $10 can of pepper spray, too.

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