“The Gambler” had a #1 country hit in 1980, with this song he recorded in the previous year. It also became a movie for him. The tune tells the terrible story of a cowardly man’s wife being gang-raped. The protagonist flips out, and gets revenge. In doing so, he also somehow proves to his father he is a man (his Dad having died in prison).
It might feel great to take the law into one’s own hands, but where might it stop?
To make life predictable, people got together in societies to agree to live under accepted ways. Otherwise, as the philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously wrote, we’re in a “state of nature” in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Further, these rules we agree to must be impartially enforced, or else everyone wronged might start a Kenny Rogers style bar room brawl. These rules we agree to can be customary laws that everyone knows and understands, or may be written down as legislation. Then we follow them or suffer the consequences such as fines and imprisonment.
Flowing from this: The rule of law is a political concept based on an ancient saying, “The rule of law, not men,” which the coward, Tommy, violates. It is obviously, heinously criminal that his beloved Becky was sexually assaulted (and by the three Gatlin Brothers, though apparently not the country group!). But in this sense of law and the rule of law, Tommy’s revenge is criminal, too. Tommy beats up the Gatlin brothers, and maybe kills them, which is assault or murder. All of us, whether bully or coward, peasant or King, is better off below the law, not taking it into our own hands. This guards against the use of unchecked power.
Mind you, if Tommy had only called the cops on the Gatlin Brothers, what kind of a country song is that?