You do not have to spend more than a few minutes with Sheriff Matt Gentry to realize he is a warm, compassionate man who loves his job as Sheriff of Cullman County and is motivated, in my opinion, for all the right reasons.
Recently I made the drive to Cullman and sat down with Sheriff Gentry and immediately knew this was going to be a great interview. He makes you feel like he has known you all your life and you pick up right away that he is a man with a sincere passion for his work in law enforcement and I was convinced really quick that he has a real desire to serve the people in his county.
We spent some time just talking about life in general and the problems of society. I learned he is a Marine and the oath he took as a Marine was more than just words to him. It is part of his make up as well as interwoven into his character. He spent 11 years working as a Narcotics Agent and the last 4 years being assigned as a Task Force Agent with DEA. We shared some stories of the results of the toll that drugs are taking on families. I could tell he has seen the other side of the dark and sinister world of pushers, addicts and the results of both. I could sense a real sensitivity and compassion in him that told me he has seen a side of the drug war that most will never see unless directly involved in it. I believe his compassion is real and that he is more than a law enforcement officer but also as a human being who cares about people.
We discussed the challenges that law enforcement face in this day of instant information and many times LE are portrayed in a bad way because all the facts are not in that surround a particular incident. He said, “One of the biggest problems we face is social media.” “A lot of what we face is being bred on social media” he said. I certainly agree. I have been guilty of seeing a video on Facebook or YouTube and the disinformation can cause tremendous misunderstanding.
I appreciate the fact that his perception of BamaCarry is very positive. He said, “I have a very good perception of BamaCarry because of the people I deal with here in Cullman County. We don’t have people going out looking for trouble and all the members I and my officers have met are good people.” He went on to say that he was invited several times to BamaCarry meetings during his campaign and is very appreciative of the support he received. That speaks a lot I think for the people in the Cullman County Chapter of BamaCarry.
I asked him, “What are some of the major obstacles you face today in LE?” He responded quickly with, “Between domestic violence and mental illness you would not believe what we deal with here.” The sad thing he said is that, “both are many times more than not directly related to drug use”. I agreed and I told him that LE and minsters generally see the dark side of drug abuse usually after it has taken its ugly toll on a family.
Another thing he mentioned as being a challenge is “perception”. A lot has been said about the militarization of LE. Sheriff Gentry is certainly not for that but he does think many are confused when they speak out as if a department owning an MRAP or other vehicle is wrong. These are not vehicles with military weaponry mounted on them. They are stripped down armored personnel carriers that can be used in hostage situations and riots to protect the officer. He gave me an example:
“The day I took office that night we would up in a seven hour standoff with an individual who had been deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial. Since then we were in another standoff with the same man and this time he is firing rounds. He comes out with his girlfriend with a shotgun firing rounds into the ground. I managed to get the girlfriend to me and the man goes back in and this time returns with an AK47 and he again is firing rounds. He retreats back into the house and now it is close to school letting out and we needed to make a decision. It was decided to use the city’s APC to get in close enough to deploy gas. Had it not been for the APC we could never have crossed the open ground to get close enough to deploy gas without possibly getting our guys hurt.”
This ended well for everyone without any loss of life. Sheriff Gentry again reiterated that, “I am not for militarization of law enforcement but there are times when heavy equipment works”. “We were able to get about ten officers’ close enough to deploy gas while the individual was firing rounds. We could never have accomplished this without the vehicle.” He went on to say that, “with the cutbacks and closings of mental health facilities around the country we will most likely see more and more of these situations”.
I asked him about SB14 and his thoughts on the ASA making a blanket statement that all the sheriffs in Alabama were against this bill. He replied by stating that he was the new kid on the block and was learning a lot. He said, “As in all groups you have positives and negatives”. He went on to say the ASA has a lot to offer him in the way of support in the legal realm and they had helped him with a situation with the County Commission already. I can understand that. Having said that he went on to say that to him SB14 is common sense. What the law in 2012 did was “disarm” law abiding citizens who choose not to buy a permit for whatever reason. He said,” If you want to open carry I am 100 percent behind you. It’s your right and I will support that.” He then told something that I have never thought about and it told me Sheriff Gentry has thought in depth about SB14. “When I tell a law abiding citizen that you have to unload your firearm and lock it and the ammunition up in the trunk we are disarming citizens and you might as well have a rock. Criminals are not going to follow the law.” Here is the point that he made and it made a lot of sense to me. He said, “it is a safety issue more than anything else to me”. What did he mean? He said, “As a Sheriff, as a Father as a Citizen…somebody open carrying is going to get into their vehicle. Under the way the law reads now they have to unload their weapon or if they are getting out of their car at the theater, Walmart or the grocery store they have to load it. When do most accidental discharges occur? They usually occur during the loading and unloading of a weapon. So I as a Sheriff, Father and a Citizen I do not want to be walking through the parking lot with my family and have someone in the parking lot loading or unloading their firearm with the potential of an accident taking place.”
So Sheriff Gentry has no problem with SB14 and I appreciate the way he had called my attention to the safety factor. I had just never thought about it the safety issue.
I then turned to oc/cc. I asked Sheriff Gentry his opinion? Open carry or concealed carry? His reply was,
“For me I open carry if I am in sheriff garb but conceal carry otherwise.” He was quick to say, “That is just me and what I feel comfortable with”. He said, “It might be from my days as a Narcotics agent where I had to carry concealed.” He did say he was well versed with the debates as to why oc or why cc. There simply are no stats to prove either way. Basically he conceals when not in uniform but has no problem with those that oc and backs it 110 percent.
Next I asked him how he felt about, “No Guns Allowed Signs” being posted and he answered about the way I suspected he would. Under no circumstances does he think LE should be involved passing out signs and encouraging business’s to put them up. He agrees that it just makes a business a soft target. He was not aware of any business’s actually asking his department for anything other than to have an officer drop in from time to time. He also acknowledged that most people probably carry past the signs and said he understood that no law was broken by doing so unless asked to leave and you didn’t. He did say that if you wanted to open carry he was 110 percent behind you but if a business wanted to post their business that was their right also.
We then turned to carrying a firearm at a voting place and I asked him if he was familiar with Mr. Kennedy who was arrested in Shelby County for carrying a firearm into a polling place and what his thoughts were. He said they had a number of people who voted while carrying a firearm openly in polling places that were not off limits by law meaning of course places where carry is forbidden by state law.
In closing I can safely say that Sheriff Gentry is a fine man and one I trust as being a friend to freedom and liberty. He has a burden for his job and wants to be the best sheriff that he possibly can. We did at the last talk about the perception of law enforcement to the general public and as he said earlier “social media can be real problem not only for law enforcement but also any group.” He used an illustration to reiterate the fact that his perception of BamaCarry was all positive but realizes that people on social media can say things that can cause a lot of damage and do cause others to have a wrong perception. He reads the main page of BamaCarry and he told me of reading a comment that “every sheriff in Alabama that is a member of the ASA should be impeached.” He said, “Does that person really think I should be impeached?” He went on to say, “I am 1000 plus percent for the constitution and especially the second amendment and would fight to uphold the constitution and I would never bow to an unconstitutional law.” What he was saying is that a lot of things being said on social media are simply not beholden to the facts. He went on to say that his opinion of BamaCarry did not change because of one person’s comment and he would hope that BamaCarry’s opinion as a whole will not change because of bad information such as the ASA making a blanket statement that every sheriff in Alabama was against SB14. He said, I bet if you could talk to every sheriff in this state you would find out there are many more that do not align themselves with everything the ASA does or says.
I am certainly trying to find out.
The bottom line is Sheriff Gentry joins Sheriff Mike Hale in a pro SB14 stand. When I left his office I felt that BamaCarry has a real friend in Sheriff Gentry and that I personally had made a new friend.
Also, I forgot to mention that Sheriff Gentry had met with Cullman County BamaCarry and had attended several meetings and spoke on at least one occasion. He spoke very highly of members there. He went on to say that the members he has met and talked with have been excellent representatives of BamaCarry Inc. Hats off to all the members in Cullman and Morgan.