The PaciFIST Precept
I decided to call my firearms training operation “PaciFIST Firearms” for a few reasons, not just because I like puns. I suspect that the name might, at first glance, seem a bit contradictory to some. However, there is a purpose behind this, and the apparent contradiction is central to it. In my view, there is no contradiction at all between having a deep interest in armed self-defense and a personal abhorrence of violence. It is a sentiment that I observe quite often in the firearm and concealed carry community, and is a concept that has appeared often throughout history and across a variety of cultures. I think it is important to share this element of the community as much as possible, to foster better communication on these often controversial issues.
I have joked for a long time that I am a “Pacifist with an emphasis on the FIST.” I don’t carry a gun because I have any desire to find myself engaged in a violent encounter. Quite the contrary. I carry a gun specifically because I do not want to have violence perpetrated on me. No matter what, there will always be some people in the world who will choose to initiate force against others. As regrettable and undesirable as violence is, it is far better that the innocent be able to repel the aggressors than to simply be at their mercy. I’m not a pacifist to the extent that I would prefer to be the victim of violence than to be ready to respond in self-defense. Instead, a PaciFIST desires peace above all else, but has the means to defend that commitment to peace as a last resort. Violence should never be initiated, but when initiated, it should not be tolerated.
All good people seek a less violent world, no matter their particular worldview. I believe that everyone having access to the means to defend themselves will lead to less violence overall than submission to and compliance with those who choose to employ violence to get their way. This appears to be backed up by research, of which there is not enough, but I don’t intend to focus on crime statistics or the specific debates they spur in this essay. Instead, I will stick with the philosophy with which myself and many others approach armed self-defense, and that which I most want to promote as the mission of PaciFIST Firearms.
Piece be with you – What is a PaciFIST?
Si vis pacem, para bellum. This Latin phrase, which translates to “if you seek peace, prepare for war,” is a very well known iteration of this PaciFIST precept. It is, however, by no means limited to the Romans, or even to Western thought. The Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BC) said in his principal doctrines that “those who possess the power to defend themselves against threats by their neighbors, being thus in possession of the surest guarantee of security, live the most pleasant life with one another.” This is no more than an ancient version of the common bumper sticker slogan seen at gun shows to this day: “An Armed Society is a Polite Society.”
While Epicureanism was an influential philosophical school at the time, it was by no means the only one. However, even the rival school of Stoicism which so informed the Roman world seemed aligned with Epicurus on this point. Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman statesman and contemporary of Julius Caesar (though perhaps not the ideal exemplar of Stoicism himself), was highly critical of Epicureanism. Even so, he seemed to have no disagreement on the idea of self-defense. In his speech Pro Milone, he states the following:
“There exists a law, not written down anywhere, but inborn in our hearts; a law which comes to us not by training or custom or reading but by derivation and absorption and adoption from nature itself; a law which has come to us not from theory but from practice, not by instruction but by natural intuition. I refer to the law which lays it down that, if our lives are endangered by plots or violence or armed robbers or enemies, any and every method of protecting ourselves is morally right.”
This is not just a defense of the concept of self-defense itself, but a pronouncement of such as a fundamental part of natural law. This is a philosophy of law that was highly influential, including on the founders of the United States. Still, this is not an essay on the philosophy of law, nor is it meant to aggrandize some uniquely American mythology. As I previously stated, these concepts transcend culture and geography, and the right to self-defense is a universal human right.
Think, for example, of the Shaolin monk. The idea of this peaceful warrior should be familiar to anyone, as martial arts have been highly influential on popular culture worldwide. These monks spend a great deal of time and effort learning Kung Fu, but do so with the commitment to a peaceful, nonviolent lifestyle. Even if the use of force is the absolute last resort, it is still something to be studied, developed, and refined. There is no contradiction in mastering that art which you hope to never use, as that very mastery aids in reducing the chance that you will ever have to. It also allows you to protect your peaceful way of life against those who would deny it to you.
The role of defensive use of force in Buddhism is controversial, however, with disagreement on the extent to which it is appropriate, or whether it is appropriate at all. Indeed, the concept of the Shaolin Kung Fu master might be as much a creation of popular culture as a historical fact. This still does not diminish its value in showing the ideal of the PaciFIST, however. In any event, the Dalai Lama, head of Vajrayana Buddhism, is quoted as saying, “If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.“
This is not the only manifestation of the PaciFIST precept in the far east, though. Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 31, states that “weapons are meant for destruction, and thus are avoided by the wise. Only as a last resort will a wise person use a deadly weapon.” Further, in his version of the ideal state (Chapter 80): “though they had buff coats and sharp weapons, they should have no occasion to don or use them.” It is not that the wise would not have weapons, but that they would have them and endeavor not to use them.
The Near East was also no stranger to these ideas. Sikhism, for example, preaches a peaceful, spiritual way of life. As a part of that, according to the Tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, “one must first try all the peaceful means of negotiation in the pursuit of justice” and if these fail then it is legitimate to “draw the sword in defense of righteousness.” The Sikhs were a religious minority in medieval India, and were forced to militarize in response to persecution at the time. As a result, the Sikhs developed their own martial arts. The aforementioned Guru Gobind Singh later formally included the kirpan, a sword or dagger, as a mandatory article of faith for all Sikhs. The kirpan is to be carried at all times, making it a duty for Sikhs to be able to defend the needy, righteousness, and the freedom of expression.
In the gun culture specifically, this has been an ever-present aspect even beyond mere bumper sticker slogans. The Colt Single Action Army revolver of 1873, one of the most iconic handguns ever developed and the quintessential “wild west” gun, was called the “Peacemaker.” Indeed, the 9mm Luger cartridge, the most popular defensive handgun cartridge, is also known as the 9mm Parabellum, named thus from the same Latin phrase which opened this section.
Peace and its attainment have been pervasive pursuits in philosophy from around the world and across time. Epicurus talked about the ideal state of being – what he called ataraxia. This translates into “peace and freedom from fear,” or “tranquility.” It is not unlike the Nirvana of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. This “peace and freedom from fear,” as Epicurus said, can be bolstered by one’s ability to act in effective self-defense. The experience of carrying a gun, as related by so many concealed carriers, is not one that makes you more paranoid. It is not one that makes you see an attack around every corner. It is not one that makes you seek out violence. As one goes on carrying, becoming more and more comfortable and more proficient, the idea of violence becomes less and less “exciting,” and a more peaceful demeanor is almost always the result.
This is why my slogan, again derived from my love of puns and the humor in all things, is “Piece be with you.” In carrying a “piece,” you carry with you not only the means with which to protect peace, but the necessity of a peaceful mindset at all times. Many concealed carriers are very thoughtful about their conduct in daily life, thanks in part to the stakes that carrying – and potentially using – a gun brings with it implicitly. This constant consideration is akin to a form of daily meditation on the consequences of one’s behavior, which lends itself to the gradual refinement of one’s demeanor toward calm.
Beyond the individual, the ability for all people to go armed if they choose fosters peace. Personal peace is bolstered both by the reduced fear of victimhood and the heightened awareness of your own conduct. Interpersonal peace is the result of both your own better conduct and the mutual respect that must be afforded to others who are capable of fighting back against aggression.
These potentially pretentious philosophical musings can be distilled down into much more practical form, which is something that I have tried to do. Anyone who has taken my training courses has encountered my “PaciFIST Principles,” which I include in the section of the course on conflict resolution after discussion of the Louisiana Aggressor Doctrine. They are meant to be simple axioms to encourage being thoughtful about one’s conduct in carrying a gun, and the purposes behind concealed carry. It is an evolving list which may be changed and refined, but I’d like to use this essay as an opportunity to expound upon them more than the time constraints of my training course permits.
Principle 1: Peace
Carrying a gun requires a peaceful, mature mindset. If you carry a gun, you cannot allow yourself to cause or escalate conflict of any kind. Because you are armed, any conflict you find yourself in has the potential to turn deadly. You cannot respond to insults or inconveniences with anger. We have all heard stories, for example, of road rage incidents that lead to violence, even murder. It is incumbent upon the responsible carrier not to contribute to this kind of escalation. When perturbed, let your gun remind you that there are worse things that could be happening, and be thankful that they are not. Let its weight on your belt remind you of the much greater weight of any action taken with it. Carrying a gun is about having an effective means of self-defense, not a license to give offense.
An exercise familiar to many concealed carriers is to run through hypotheticals of what could happen in any given scenario. Let your imagination work through possible outcomes of your conduct. If flipping an inconsiderate driver the bird might lead to him trying to kill you, it is not worth doing. Even if you, being armed and trained in shooting, could successfully defend yourself against such an attack, it is far better to avoid it altogether. Even if the law might excuse your behavior as justified if you had to shoot someone who attacked you in response to a simple insult, that does not mean it is a good outcome. The fact that a shooting (or any violence) resulted in response to your conduct, however unreasonable the response was, is still a negative outcome.
Carrying a gun is not about being powerful, but only a refusal to be powerless. Carrying a gun can be an exciting feeling. Our culture portrays violence as exciting through movies, books, and games, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying that excitement. But that excitement in fictional media is just that – fictional. Real violence is not exciting, but horrifying. Even people that survive it without physical injury usually suffer mental wounds. Though you carry a gun daily, with the knowledge that you may use it, using it should be the last thing that you want to happen. You should not put yourself into potentially dangerous situations in life just because you are armed.
You are not carrying a gun to look tough, intimidate others, or to win arguments. Experienced carriers and instructors will often say that “the day you start carrying a gun is the day you decide to lose every argument.” You should not boast about your gun. You should not broadcast the fact that you’re carrying. You should not flash your gun at anyone under any circumstances. Even when the law doesn’t impose upon you a duty to retreat, retreat may often be the best option to save your life or avoid violence altogether. There is no room for pride, and defending “honor” alone with deadly force is not honorable. There is no inherent value in “getting the bad guy” if it does nothing to further saving your life or the lives of others, and being involved in a shooting, even if you come out unscathed, is never to be desired.
Principle 2: Perception
Cultivate an attitude of alert tranquility. Situational awareness is important for those choosing to carry a gun. It is a topic of a great deal of discussion in concealed carry training and the concealed carry community. You must be aware of your surroundings and any threats that present themselves if you wish to be able to effectively respond to them. However, this does not mean you have to be paranoid or on-edge at all times. As important as it is to identify threats quickly, it is equally important to identify if something is not a threat so that you are not the source of conflict or escalation. Your default attitude to others should thus be attentiveness, not suspicion. You must remain perceptive, but also calm.
Principle One flows into principle two in this balance of vigilance and restraint. It is important to train to be able draw your gun quickly enough when needed, and it is just as important to know when it is not needed. We have all seen the videos and heard the stories of bad shoots, and we have all followed the controversial and highly public trials that often result. You cannot allow yourself to become one of those bad examples, not only for your own sake, but for the sake of gun rights at large.
Additionally, while a critical part of carrying a gun is staying aware of the actions of others, it is just as critical to stay aware of your own actions. Critical is a good word for it, as being constantly critical of yourself is necessary for improvement, both in how you carry your gun and how you carry yourself. You should always strive to be polite and courteous. Not only will this help prevent conflict, but acknowledging others you meet is a great way to stay aware of them. Eye contact and a smile is the least threatening way to size up someone who may be a potential threat themselves, but is nonetheless effective.
Awareness of your own attitude and exercising good judgment both matter in sticking to Principle One, but you should also stay aware of all of your carry techniques as well. Complacency is never good, and you should always seek to improve. Sloppy carrying can cause conflict in itself if people see your gun and get the wrong idea, or could cause an unnecessary law enforcement encounter. But again, the same balancing of awareness and tranquility still applies – being overly concerned with your gear can be as bad as being unconcerned. Constantly changing equipment to improve your performance might mean you never get as comfortable with it as you should, and being overly concerned and fidgety about concealment, constantly touching or adjusting your gun, might make your it more obvious than a little printing ever would.
Principle 3: Propagation
Be a PaciFIST Paragon, planting seeds of peace wherever you go. One thing that far too people realize, or perhaps simply don’t want to admit, is that every gun owner is responsible to some extent for how the entire country (and entire world) views gun rights. We have all heard negative stereotypes and seen examples of irresponsible gun ownership that fit them. The bad actions will always be the talking points. After all, when nothing goes wrong, there is nothing to report. Accordingly, it is incumbent upon each of us not only to make sure that we act responsibly at all times, but that we encourage everyone else to do so as well.
Set an example for others, and remember the Golden Rule. Act with the same standards of conduct that you would like everyone else to. You are carrying a gun because you want to live in a safer, kinder, more peaceful society, so you must set a good example yourself by being a safer, kinder, more peaceful person. As Principle One flowed into Principle Two, so does Two into Three. If you create a peaceful mindset internally, and carry that peaceful, mindful attitude with you into your interactions with others, hopefully they will follow your example and do the same.
But it is not always enough simply to be a good example, especially when a good example of concealed carry is designed to go unnoticed and avoid conflict. The best examples are, by nature, the least visible. If we want to ensure that the worst examples aren’t the only ones that get discussed, we must strive to police our own. Call out and correct irresponsible gun ownership. Admonish those who encourage or glorify the initiation of violence.
When advocating for concealed carry or gun rights, avoid divisive rhetoric. Resist the urge to get involved in name-calling and instead emphathize with your opponent. Remember that even if you believe someone is wrong, that does not mean that they are unreasonable. It is possible to come to logically sound conclusions based on flawed premises. A person who knows little about guns, and who only sees those worst examples that are most visible, is not illogical in concluding that guns are bad from those limited, skewed facts. This is the purpose of education, and there can be no education without good-faith outreach.
That outreach is of paramount importance. The right to self-defense, which includes the right to bear arms, is a human right. It belongs to everyone, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, identity, or orientation. One of the surest ways to protect gun rights is to highlight this, and to encourage people of all stripes to exercise their rights. It is politically much harder to take away a right that all people value than one that is only associated with white, rural, heterosexual, cis-gendered men. There is no room for racism or bigotry in gun rights, and we must do everything we can to prevent the perception that they are in any way related. If everyone is able to protect themselves from hatred and violence, no one will have to.
And lastly, if someone does not have any interest in guns and wants nothing to do with them, that is ok. It is enough to convince someone not to oppose gun rights. Trying to force anyone to do something they don’t want to do goes too far. Each person must be free to choose what is right for them to seek their own personal peace. Societal peace doesn’t require that everyone be carrying a gun for self-defense. It only matters that everyone can.
As always, Piece be with you!