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Las Vegas Shooting Reminds Us That Sheepdogs Have to Keep the Wolves at Bay


Dave Grossman is retired from the U.S. Army. He rose from the enlisted ranks to lieutenant colonel, having served as an infantry officer and as a professor of psychology at West Point. Today he is a lecturer and author; two of his books, On Killing and On Combat are widely read among military personnel and police officers. A particular passage from On Combat, titled “On Wolves, Sheep, and Sheepdogs,” can be said to be a distillation of much of Grossman’s writing, explaining as it does what distinguishes the protector’s mindset from those of the protected and the predator. Here is a small excerpt:

The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.

Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, “Baa.”

Last Sunday night, in Las Vegas, a wolf attacked. And as horrific as the night was, it might have been far worse had there not been so many sheepdogs present. There were hundreds of off-duty police officers (about 60 from the LAPD alone), firefighters, paramedics, and military personnel, active and retired, attending the concert, added to which were those who may not have known they were sheepdogs until the wolf came. The tales of bravery and self-sacrifice emerging from that night are many (here is another one), and there are doubtless many more that will be known only to those who experienced them.

Though as of this writing little has been revealed about the shooter, he chose as his killing place a location for which there was no effective place to counter him. When the president or some other Secret Service protectee makes an appearance outdoors, you may notice people on nearby rooftops. You may only see their heads and shoulders, but below and out of view are rifles. These are Secret Service counter-sniper teams, and while they may not be found on all the nearby rooftops, they will always occupy the highest one and any others required to meet the threat of a long-distance gunman. In the case of the Mandalay Bay, there is no high-rise to the north or west from which the police might have fired on the shooter’s position.