Monday, May 4, 2009

With Gun in Hand

Mama, take this badge off of me
I cant use it anymore.
Its gettin dark, too dark for me to see
I feel like Im knockin on heavens door

Knock, knock, knockin on heavens door

Mama, put my guns in the ground
I cant shoot them anymore.
That long black cloud is comin down
I feel like Im knockin on heavens door.

Knock, knock, knockin on heavens door

Bob Dylan sang these lyrics as mortally wounded Sheriff Colin Baker staggers toward a river once destined to float him away in retirement.

Carson City Marshal Walter J. Thibido needlessly worries about what will happen to his family should he be killed by former lawman and shootist John Bernard (J.B.) Books.

Two shotgun blasts in the back mortally wound J.B. Books. He nods in acknowledgement when Gilliom Rogers throws away the handgun he just used to kill Books’ assailant.

Failing to capture a serial killer, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell retires and he and his wife sit at the kitchen table while he recounts a dream he had about his deceased father, a Sheriff in his own right, leading Ed Bell into eternity.

All of this in three movies, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, The Shootist and No Country for Old Men, which examine the close of police careers steeped in violence.

One of my law enforcement brothers stated, “Previously, I was a hired gun. Now I am a member of a community.” He’s still a law enforcement officer, but he’s learned something.

Pat Garrett and Sheriff Baker both represented the “hired gun” theme. Garrett alternated between outlaw and lawman. Baker returned the “piece of gold” he required to assist Pat Garrett in hunting for Billy the Kid.

Books was seen by the public as a shootist, a gunman, and thus perhaps a character not dissimilar to the opportunist and morally bankrupt Pat Garrett. The original The Shootist screenplay called for J.B. Books to backshoot an adversary. But, John Wayne refused to play it that way explaining that he had never shot anyone in the back in any movie that he had ever done.

Further arguing in opposition to the characterization, Books embodied the ideals of self sufficiency and fairness in purpose and action. He stated, "I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them." But, what he did not say is that he would not abide the same done to those who cannot defend themselves. And, that is the role of the moral law enforcement officer.

Real cop life does have an element of the “hired gun” in it because society empowers officers with the authority to use deadly force when necessary to protect life. Fortunately, the anti-heroic moral relativism showcased by the spaghetti westerns of Clint Eastwood is not representative of modern police work. Eastwood’s work virtually ended the idealized good guy vs. bad guy storyline of the prior Western genre of films.

Most officers don’t think of themselves as hired guns, and they are just trying to get through the day by doing the right thing and not getting killed. Marshal Thibido and Sheriff Bell were such characters.

Upon retirement, some cops, like Sheriff Bell, struggle to adjust to a civilian life style incongruent with the essence of their adult identity creating a new void in their lives.

A dear friend and retired career law enforcement warrior warned me that I am “too invested” in the political issues enveloping and suffocating the soul of career law enforcement officers. And, perhaps I am too invested for my own good. It’s not in the script for Baker, Books and Bell, but I have a passion that is reason enough for me, grandchildren.

When I am knocking on heaven’s door, I want to be able to know that I made my best effort to influence the system to protect my grandbabies from those who wish them harm. I want to impart something to my grandbabies that will help them cope with the world’s dimming prospects for liberty.

Until that door opens for me, I pray that I retain the mental capacity to wield my pen in warning. That’s one way to address a threat.

When it becomes my time to only carry a retired law enforcement badge, I will not lay down my guns discarding the duty I accepted all these years as a hired gun for the American people. By God, if I can carry a gun for strangers, I can certainly carry one for my kin. That’s a second way to address a threat.

I was in a public park the other day for a family gathering. There was a gun in my pocket. Nobody knew about it, but it was there if a Wolf needed neutralizing.

"I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them." And, I won’t let anyone do it to my loved ones.

The honored badge will be in my wallet and the gun will still be in my hand when it is my turn to step through the door.