Armed in America: It’s not easy being a retired cop

No matter how much training, experience and proven good judgment you have, some people will never be comfortable with an old sheepdog being armed

How would you feel if someone you had great respect for declared they were not comfortable with you being armed? This is how it happened to me.

The new doctor

On November 7, 2018, I went for my yearly physical. I was scheduled with a new doctor because my old doctor was retiring.  When I arrived at the hospital clinic I gave absolutely no thought to the fact I was armed. After all these years that would be like giving thought to the fact that I was wearing socks. Because my doctor was new, I told him I was retired law enforcement and showed him my identification and authorization to carry concealed

A bouquet of flowers, left by mourners, lays near the site of Wednesday's mass shooting, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018.
A bouquet of flowers, left by mourners, lays near the site of Wednesday's mass shooting, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Unimpressed, he explained I had three options to choose from before he would start the physical:

  1. He could call security and I could turn my weapon over to them and retrieve it later.
  2. I could go out to my car and deposit my weapon there and return for the check-up.
  3. I could leave and reschedule the appointment.

After he said it was “policy,” I initially planned on taking door number two, but then the doctor unnecessarily added, “I’m not comfortable with you being armed.”

Those words hit me in the gut like a sock full of quarters swung by an Olympic hammer thrower. I left without having my physical exam feeling an intense sadness to the point of being physically ill. I had once commanded the SWAT team and been named SWAT Officer of the Year in Wisconsin. Now I was just an old guy and before the doctor took one look at me or asked me one question, he declared he was “not comfortable” with me being armed.

“Ouch!” It hurts my heart to think of it.

You see I had been entering this hospital armed for 40 years, mostly when the hospital needed assistance. In one case I may have saved some lives. A suspect entered the emergency room with a shotgun to kill his significant other, and I was in a position to flank him and render him unconscious with a lateral vascular neck restraint. No shots were fired and no one was hurt.

That struggle on the hospital’s behalf and countless others were long forgotten along with my years of extensive training and experience. Besides the intense sadness I felt upon hearing the doctor’s words I thought to myself, “It’s sure not easy being an old sheepdog.”

The day of the Borderline shooting attack

By coincidence, later that same day my resolve to continue carrying was rekindled. A man entered the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, armed with a semi-automatic .45 caliber pistol. He proceeded to kill 12 during this attack.

The first victim in the shooting was a man providing unarmed security for the bar. With no way to defend himself, he died at his post. Another victim in the Borderline attack had survived the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting, proving that not only can this sort of lightning strike twice, but also that there is no inoculation against these killers.

Sgt. Ron Helus of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office courageously entered the Borderline while the shooting was in progress and was mortally wounded just minutes after he had concluded a phone call to his wife by saying, “I love you.”

Rest in peace brother.

Continually disarmed

The doctor’s words to me shine a light on a problem we face dealing with active shooters. No matter how much training, experience and proven good judgment a person possesses, some people will never be comfortable with anyone being armed.

There are countless “security” measures and signs in place to disarm people like you and me because few people are willing to recognize that having more armed, honorable gunfighters around is part of the solution to the problem of active shooters.

Requiring someone of my background and skills to disarm before entering hospitals, courthouses, restaurants, malls, schools, airports, stadiums and theaters is absolutely ludicrous. This requirement is made in spite of the fact that these locations have been prime targets of active shooters.

It would be easier not to be a sheepdog

Speaking from experience it would be easier to lock my Glock away in storage than to carry it every day as I do. It takes a commitment. You see anyone who carries concealed is at times:

  • Chastised by friends or family for carrying when it was “unnecessary.”
  • Required to dress a certain way to properly conceal the weapon every minute of the day.
  • Required to maintain their skills (if retired) and pay a fee to qualify every year.
  • Met with signs barring them from entering many facilities while armed. Before entering any of these places they are expected to discreetly abandon their weapon somehow, somewhere and leave it unattended, risking its loss by theft.

Sadly, even in these dangerous times, too many talented and honorable sheepdogs choose to stop carrying because it becomes a hassle to be a sheepdog 24-7.

Part of the solution, not part of the problem

Not everyone who chooses to carry concealed is a “gun nut or a “bitter clinger.” They carry concealed because of an innate sense that it is their calling to protect those who can’t protect themselves.

Once a killer starts shooting, the people in the killer’s line of fire will not care if those armed sheepdogs are:

  • Police officers, arriving quickly.
  • Armed teachers.
  • Armed judges or prosecutors.
  • Armed business owners.
  • Armed pilots.
  • Armed security. (Unarmed security is hardly even a speed bump for the active shooter.)
  • Armed off-duty officers.
  • Armed retired officers.
  • Armed first responders or firefighters.
  • Armed politicians.
  • Armed citizens.

The Thousand Oaks shooting is one more example of a time when an armed, honorable gunfighter on the premises could have made a difference. It makes me wonder how many people who could legally carry concealed left their firearms at home and went to the Borderline that night because someone was “not comfortable” with them being armed.

“Ouch!” It breaks my heart to think of it.

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