When The Guys Who Know first got together and started the Murder-Books Blog, we decided to stay away from politics and controversial social issues. It makes sense. Who cares whether we’re for or against The Affordable Care Act or are pro-life or pro-choice? If we were to take a stand either way, we risk losing some of our readers, alienate fellow authors, or piss off our New York publishers. Besides, what does it have to do with crime fiction?
I’ve had lots of practice staying out of politics. I wore an Army uniform for 32 years. I learned early on that any derogatory comment about our chain of command, which included countless civilians up to and including the President of the United States, was in violation of the U.C.M.J. In those three decades, I served under seven different Commanders in Chief (Presidents), both democrats and republicans. I never badmouthed one, nor have I badmouthed the last two, even though I’m now a civilian.
I survived (although it was touch and go at times) the politics of a law enforcement career in one of the most liberal areas of the nation because I understood cops must obey the lawful orders of their superiors, which includes those elected officials in their chain of command, even when they don’t agree with them.
Therefore, I squirmed in my seat a few weeks ago when a member of the audience at Bouchercon (The World Mystery Conference) asked the panel on which I sat, “Have you ever fired a gun, do you own one, and have you ever shot anyone?”
The conference was in Toronto, Canada, where gun laws are quite different from the US. There were a lot of Canadians and Brits in the audience. Although every author on our panel wrote police procedurals, meaning their protagonist was a police officer, I was the only who had ever carried a badge and gun for a living. One was from Scotland, another was from Canada, a third from New York City, and the last was a former lawyer from New York now living in Greece.
Needless to say, when the first four panelists answered, none had gun safes in their houses or carried a gun daily for most of their adult lives. Although it was obvious the question was meant to highlight someone’s gun control agenda, I was impressed that no one on the panel fell into the trap.
I was the last one to answer, and hundreds of eyes focused on me. Scanning the room, I didn’t spot anyone wearing NRA baseball caps or Smith & Wesson tee shirts. During my life, I’ve fired many thousands of rounds through many different guns, some through the military, others through the police department. I still have three revolvers, all of which I carried in uniform or plainclothes early in my career. And I own a number of semiautomatics, all but one of which I carried as my service weapon or off duty during my career. The other one is a .22 target pistol my father bought for me when I turned 16.
I felt no need to apologize to the audience for carrying a gun. Cops hate the violence they see and experience daily, but they acknowledge its existence. I have saved countless innocent lives which might’ve been lost if I wasn’t there with a gun. Police officers know bad guys can appear at any time and any place, and that’s why I still carry a gun much of the time today. Not because I like having to shoulder the responsibility of remaining constantly alert and aware, which comes with being armed. Not because I need to adjust my attire to conceal my handgun whenever I’m in public view. Not because I must practice to remain proficient and qualify once a year to meet the federal standards for retired officers to be allowed to carry throughout the nation.
No, I continue to carry a handgun because I know there are bad guys out there, and if one them tries to kill or seriously harm someone, I might be able to save an innocent life.
As to the third question—if I ever shot anyone—I didn’t even address it. That’s something you never ask a cop or soldier unless you’re his or her best friend or therapist.
Police operate in a highly charged political environment, and it’s hard to remain apart from it. The same goes for the police characters in my novels. But unless their political or social views have something to do with the story, they’ll mostly keep it to themselves.
Several people came up to me after the panel. All were shocked that someone would ask that question. A few from the UK expressed sadness that we American cops need to carry guns. A few from the states wished gun violence wasn’t so prevalent. A few thanked me for my years of service. But none thought I shouldn’t own or carry a gun.