Christopher Cantwell, who officially endorse me as a social justice warrior, got himself into a rather unpleasant self-defense situation. I’ve heard him discuss it on Free Talk Live and read numerous opinions about how he handled the situation. As this story is an intersection of anarchism (Cantwell, even though many of his writings would indicate otherwise, does consider himself an anarchist as I’ve learned) and gun rights I thought I’d offer my opinion (and don’t say you didn’t ask for it, you’re on my site so obviously you want to know what I think).
From what I’ve read and heard the situation began when Cantwell came across a physical altercation and pulled out his camera to record it. The people involved in the altercation decided they didn’t want to be recorded and the situation quickly escalated to the point where Cantwell felt threatened enough to draw his gun.
Cantwell and I may both be anarchists but we likely disagree on more things than we agree on. I mention this because it’s something I share with many gun rights advocates (the disagreeing with Cantwell part, not the being an anarchist part) and the general attitude of many of them seems to be that Cantwell acted stupidly. Because of the video and what he said about the situation I’m left to believe that the primary reason they find what he did to be stupid is because they just generally don’t like the guy and are unwilling to compliment him. The reason I believe this is because he actually handled the situation well.
The first criticism being aimed at him by his detractors is that he involved himself in the situation. Anybody who has taken a self-defense class will tell you that involving yourself in altercations between unknown individuals is not a wise idea. Of course standing aside could result in somebody being murdered. Therefore the question becomes whether the legal liability is so great that your conscious will allow you to walk away as somebody is potentially being murdered. I think Cantwell took a good middle path by recording the altercation. By doing so really can’t be said to have escalated the situation since his “involvement” was nothing more than being a witness. He didn’t approach the group and command them to knock it off or take sides. Instead he did the same thing any security camera would do, bear witness and make a record of what happened.
When the people involved in the altercation took notice of him they initiated another aggressive situation, this time involving Cantwell. First they commanded him to turn off his camera and then approached him when he refused. At this point leaving the camera on was the wisest decision he could have made because it create a record that shows he didn’t instigate the situation and even made an effort to back away. That’s a key point, as the aggressors approached he attempted to maintain space by backing away.
Where I disagree with that he did is when he informed the aggressors that he had a gun. My quibble with this is that you remove the shock factor drawing your firearm has and potentially convince you aggressors to draw their firearms that you were unaware they had. Having surprise on your side is good in a self-defense situation because it can cause your aggressors to stop for a second as they process the new circumstance. This is a minor quibble though as the situation didn’t change. Warning them that he was armed didn’t convince them to back off nor did they pull weapons on him. In the end it was one of those mid-situation tactics that you really have to decide for yourself based on the situation at hand as it’s unfolding.
In the end he drew his firearm and that convinced his aggressors that they should stop approaching and threatening him. As with most self-defense situations involving the defender drawing a firearm the situation was resolved without any shots fired, which is the best possible outcome when things have reached that point.
I really can’t see where Cantwell committed any major self-defense faux pas. People could argue that he didn’t have to involve himself by recording the altercation but if it ended up in a murder people would probably criticize him for not recording it. By choosing to record the situation rather than break it up he ensured his involvement was minimal and stood little chance of escalating matters. It’s a good middle ground between legal liability and decency.