Riots, Protests, Civil Unrest, And Being Armed

GLOCK 30 45 ACP pistol - The funky ring light reminds me of the Bifröst.

The Regular Guy Guns readership spans the demographics of politics, race, gender, orientation, and all the other things pollsters get worked up about. In the interest of keeping things focused, I’ve avoided some obvious hot-button issues like the (actually very limited) civil unrest that has gripped and continues to grip our nation. We all have the right to peacefully assemble and petition our governments for a redress of grievances - and no, wanton property destruction isn’t covered by that right. However, peaceful assemblages can turn rowdy, and sometimes the violence happens to find you…

With that in mind, I’m presenting some practical suggestions for staying safe and free in these rather unusual times.

FN 509 Gritr

Protesting While Armed Is Usually Legal

We’ve covered this before, but exercising your First and Second Amendment rights concurrently is usually legal. On a base philosophical level, I encourage and support the right of all free people to peacefully assemble while under arms. Hell, I’ve done it - sure, it was in the context of fishing off of a pier on South Beach, but by the strict definition, I was protesting while armed. Fishing rod and my trusty VP9 9mm pistol.

However, there’s inherent rights, and then there’s what the government thinks of those inherent rights. Protesting while armed may flat-out be illegal in your jurisdiction. Check your local laws before venturing forth. At the end, you do you though. I’m not your father, I’m just your friendly neighborhood gun blogger who dishes out long-form pieces and the occasional podcast. And of course, it goes without saying that rioting while armed is definitely illegal. If you’re the sort to chuck IEDs and such and you have a blaster on you, you’re unlawful any way you slice it. The bedrock of legal self-defense rests on whether you are lawfully present in the place where the act is committed.

Again - check your local laws before heading out.

Protesting In 2020 Has An Increased Risk Factor

I’m not here to debate the ups and downs of one’s motivation to protest - again, it’s your right. Whether it’s to call for change in police conduct or if it’s to back the blue, you have every right to go out there. If it’s to support a Presidential candidate, or oppose one, it’s your right to rock out with all the handpainted signs and memorabilia you can muster. That being said, it’s a tense time, and these things have a risk of getting out of hand very quickly. Your quirky sit-in or blockade can go south in the blink of an eye. Even if you don’t participate - the risk in general has gone up.

Sometimes Trouble Finds You

Well, not you in particular, but as I stated above, sometimes when a protest gets out of hand, or if it’s just a pre-planned riot right out of the gate, these situations can pop up almost seemingly out of nowhere. You could be on your way home from work, and suddenly the highway is blocked and the crowd has turned aggressive or violent. You could pop out to go to the store and one wrong turn has your route blocked by some scrawny folk with improvised shields and melee weapons - and/or firearms.

Note the emphasis on “seemingly”.

Large protests, riots, and civil unrest are rarely spontaneous events. I’m sorry to piss anyone off but it just doesn’t happen like that. Regardless of the issue or motivation, there’s shot-callers putting it all together. The planning is usually rapid and formulaic, since yes, there is a formula. It just seems spontaneous since we live in an age of realtime personal one-to-many and many-to-many communication. With a big enough and popular cause célèbre, an influential figure either on the local or national scene can get people on the streets in mere hours - less if the motivation factor or incident happened a day or two ago and there was time for a “strategy session”.

Anyways, unless you’re hip and in tune to those messages, you could easily find yourself caught up in something rather dangerous. That being said, there’s ways to get out of it, even peaceful methods. We’ll chop it up (as Maj Toure says) below.

Brownells

Open-Source Intelligence

Open-Source Intelligence is nothing new. Despite the hype, not all intelligence gathering is done by James Bond- or Jack Ryan-types scurrying around in darkened buildings or by hackers breaching government computer systems. A lot of the information gleaned by the intelligence community is out there and unclassified, and is usually freely (as in you don’t have to pay for it) accessible. It started with just monitoring domestic and foreign TV and radio broadcasts, but Open-Source Intelligence - aka OSINT - is now that, plus social media, streams, blogs, forums, the whole digital realm. The spooks can view it, and so can you. You’re on there anyway - why not put it to good use?

Social Media

People love to post about shit. Whether it’s the weather, birthdays, events, the latest social cause du jour, or newsworthy events, people will post about stuff. Most of the social networks, even the newfangled ones like Parler, Gab, and so on, have “trending” features, where one can observe what people are talking about. You can usually drill down by locality as well and see what’s trending in your area. Is it a sporting event or is it some sort of protest? Click on some random posts - you can often get a peek into what’s going on at ground level. Instagram is very useful for this - you can often select a geotagged location and see what’s going on in realtime or pretty damn close to it. Search for posts related to any recent incident of note. For example, you could look for “XYZ Protests In Miami” and get an idea of where and when they may happen, and plan accordingly. If it’s a tense issue, those protest sites could be zones of civil unrest in a hurry. Coupled with keeping an eye on the news and you’ve laid the groundwork for a personalized OSINT operation.

Traffic Cameras, Waze and Webcams

About five minutes after researchers figured out how to push internet speeds beyond dial-up velocities, someone figured out how to stream a rapid series of photos and video over that connection. It was actually used to check the status of a coffee machine. I’m guessing about five minutes after that, someone else figured out that you could stream other things over a connection, and then monetize it. Cha ching.

Lurid business strategies aside, most public cameras you see nowadays run over an IP (internet) network and are usually accessible to the public. These cameras are a really good OSINT resource - in this case, Google is your friend - just find your local traffic authority’s website and they probably have a feed. For Florida, it’s Sunguide and the cameras show realtime feeds of all the major highways and thoroughfares in the state. Is that an accident or a deliberate blockade? Make it a habit to do recon of your route and you’ll avoid, at the minimum, hours of frustration.

Along the same lines, Earthcam is still a thing - where private and public providers stream, for free - you can often get quality perspectives on an area in question, even with audio.

Realtime traffic apps are a godsend, especially Waze. Waze draws from public data and crowd sources to provide realtime optimal routing to your destination. You can also see other users on Waze, and even hit them up for a chat if they happen to be in an area of interest along your route.

I put some of this into play at the beginning of the summer here in Miami. After the George Floyd incident, we had our share of protests down here in Miami, with a (thankfully) limited period of rioting that lasted for maybe a weekend on the outside. Too damn hot I guess. Anyways, I had a sense of the situation, and used Sunguide and Waze to plan my commute home that evening. The riot broke out, I headed west and then north rather than through Downtown. It was glorious, you wouldn’t have known anything was happening. Flipped the Beemer over to that pseudo-manual mode, dropped the sunroof, put on some Sabaton, and floored it.

TL:DR - use the supercomputer in your pocket for something besides hooking up with people of ill repute on Tinder.

The Old Standby - Police Scanners

Before smartphones, social media, and the commercial internet, one effective form of OSINT was, and still is, the radio scanner, aka the police scanner. I’m still learning about “comms”, but already I can tell you that being able to get an idea of what the emergency services are chatting about is a great way to stay abreast of things in your area. You can either purchase a dedicated hardware-based police scanner, or utilize a smartphone app, and tap in (legally) to the feeds from the local PD, fire rescue, and EMTs. Now grant it, this isn’t a surefire source anymore since a lot of services have converted to digital radio systems, which require specialized gear to monitor, or in some cases, the signals may be encrypted completely. Still, being able to have a basic idea of what emergency services are up to is an invaluable source of information. A call of “all units” (or whatever term they use) to a specific location is a strong indicator that it may not be wise to go near that location.

OSINT Usage Goals

The goal of utilizing open-source intelligence resources is to be able to explicitly not be where trouble is occuring. The easiest way to win is to not play the game. However, despite your preparations - trouble can find you regardless.

Defending Yourself During Civil Unrest

Provided you have the lawful right to be where you are, your legal protections for utilizing your right to self-defense do not change. Whether you are traversing a protest area-turned-riot on the way home, or were participating in a peaceful protest turned violent, you are most likely still “legal” to defend yourself by force of arms provided you have the lawful right to be armed in that situation. Again - check your local laws. But, for a broad example, if you are driving home and the OSINT was wrong, and you are suddenly swarmed by rioters and they attempt to harm you - you can utilize force to defend yourself. If you’re just doing plain old sign-waving protests and someone decides they don’t agree with your message and they get violent with you, you can defend yourself.

However, all that goes out the window if you were engaged in any sort of offensive violent conduct. If you were burning down a building and someone hits back, you don’t have the lawful right to defend yourself.

Of course one should exhaust all peaceful options before falling back on armed defense - the minute you draw your firearm, and especially if you open fire, your life has just changed immensely. Even if you’re 100% in the right, the fight has only just begun, even after the shooting has stopped. Brace yourself for a year or more of police questioning, lawyers, judges, and probably a bunch of pissed-off friends of whomever your attacker was.

It’s a little more cut-and-dry if the situation involves your home or business of course. If trouble finds you at your “castle”, lawful self-defense becomes a fair bit more elementary. Again, please consult your local laws and an attorney for specifics.

Plus, consider carefully the hidden costs of defending yourself by force of arms. Shooting at someone, even in self-defense, is not to be taken lightly. As one of my first instructors put it - the minute your press that trigger in a gunfight, a little bit of yourself leaves the barrel along with the bullet. However, hopefully we’ve all tacitly resigned to this fate when we decided to arm ourselves for defensive purposes. At the very least, seek professional or spiritual help if you’re ever involved in a situation like I’ve described.

And try your damndest to de-escalate. The best gunfight is one you can peacefully walk away from.

The Second Protects The First

The right to protest is as important as the right to keep and bear arms. The Second Amendment protects the First Amendment. Shout your message from the rooftops and be armed - it’s your right. I may not agree with your message, but I’ll defend your right to say it - and I expect the same courtesy from you. However, remember that as peaceable armed citizens, we’re not out to engage in vigilante tactics or paramilitary maneuvers. Society hasn’t and hopefully won’t collapse. We seek to defend ourselves, those we love, and our properties by any means we deem appropriate. We want to be left alone, and will extend the same courtesies to those who respect our wishes.

These are interesting times we find ourselves in - be alert, prepared, and most of all, as dorky as it sounds, keep a positive outlook. We can get through this with our inherent individual and Constitutional rights intact and be a stronger United States because of it.

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