For seven of the twelve years I was with the Customs Service, when I was a Special Agent, I carried a gun. I had never fired or even held a revolver until one was issued to me my first week on the job and the range master in the San Francisco office taught me how to use it. Guns had never been part of my family. My dad was not a hunter, and I think he had had his fill of them in the war.

I recall some of the approaches instilled in us in training: never threaten anyone with your weapon; don’t upholster it unless you have to use it; don’t fire it unless you have to, but if you have to shoot, shoot to kill. It sounds cold, but if you imagine yourself in one of those split-second life and death confrontations it is just realistic, practical survival guidance. Behind the increasing deadliness of handguns carried by police officers, from the 38 special that was the standard issue 40 years ago, to the 357 magnum, and then to the 9 millimeter semi-automatic, is the fact that the criminals were becoming better armed than the police and that the 38 special was often ineffective. There are numerous accounts, familiar to every officer, of persons shot six times with a .38 special who still over-powered and killed the officer.

Whenever we in the San Francisco office had to make an arrest we followed the FBI protocol – go in such large numbers that resistance is seen as futile. That way no one gets hurt.  But the reality is that most officers today work alone.

My other impression from those days to share with you is the effect it had on me. I didn’t know at the time that there was any. I was never possessed of any macho tendencies during that time; I found that I used a camera a whole lot more. So I was really surprised to find that when I left investigations and turned in my badge and my gun that I had an immediate strong feeling of vulnerability, almost nakedness. Equally surprising was that it took about five years for that to go away.

Mainly though I am thankful that I never faced one of those situations and never shot anyone.

There isn’t a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer for police officers, but there is one for Prisons and Correctional Institutions which will have to do for now.

Lord Jesus, for our sake you were condemned as a criminal: Visit our jails and prisons with your pity and judgment. Remember all prisoners, and bring the guilty to repentance and amendment of life according to your will, and give them hope for their future. When any are held unjustly, bring them release; forgive us, and teach us to improve our justice. Remember those who work in these institutions; keep them humane and compassionate; and save them from becoming brutal or callous. And since what we do for those in prison, O Lord, we do for, constrain us to improve their lot. All this we ask for your mercy’s sake. Amen.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, 19-August-2014.

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4 Responses to Armed

  1. Jo says:

    Thank you for this timely post.

  2. Ron Hicks says:

    Immediately on publishing my Daily Cup, “Armed,” I realized that it might be interpreted as a commentary on recent events. While i, like everyone else, have been keeping up with the news, I don’t know what happened there and have no conclusions or judgments about fault on either side. More than anything it was a reflection on my own experiences in this increasingly armed society.

    Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 19-August-2014.

  3. Eileen says:

    Yes — timely, informed and sensitive to aspects of this question. This nation needs experienced, unbiased people to speak as we try to understand the thinking of everyone involved, here. And once we understand, have courage to change things that really need to be changed.

  4. Marina Bhler-Miko says:

    Dear Ron,

    I had no idea that you were a Customs Officer. Your tale of having to deal with guns reminds me of a story of my (almost) run-in with some well-armed customs Officers. It was in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia just after its liberation. Western Georgia was controlled by a gentleman named Aslan Abashidze, otherwise known as the war lord of Western Georgia. Aslan was a very exacting businessman, who was very gallant with me so I had no problems. But he protected his interests well, especially his export-import trade. Now that the border between Georgia and Turkey was opened (a slender road running just below cliffs, reminiscent of route 1 around Big Sur), Aslan employed a lot of custom officers. He obviously paid these gentlemen very well given the expensive cashmere coats they all donned, a product of Harrods or something like that. My Russian partner and I happened to be on a flight from Tbilisi to Batumi when I realized every seat was occupied by these spiffy customs officers. I was marveling at what capitalism had brought to Georgia when my Russian partner pointed out to me the bulges in those chic coats. They were all armed to the hilt. I guess you can dress up the gangster, but he is still a gangster … something like that.

    Cheers, Marina

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