The first thing I noticed when I walked into Sheriff Ron Abernathy’s office was the King James AV1611 bible lying on his desk. Now that doesn’t always mean anything because I see lots of bibles in lots of places…usually with dust on them. This one was different…the cover showed signs of wear. It actually gets opened and read.
Sheriff Abernathy is the sheriff of Tuscaloosa County. He sets you at ease right up front. Within five minutes I felt like I had known him 20 years. He is a somewhat soft spoken individual (at least during our visit) but speaks with authority. He has a personality that simply attracts you and causes you to want to listen to him. He worked his way up to where he is with dedication, consistency and a dedication to what he believes in.
What I have found common with a number of LE officers and Sheriffs that I know and talk with is that they are men and women of faith. Sheriff Abernathy is no exception. He was very open, honest and unapologetic about his faith in Christ and how he felt about his church and the part they both play in his day to day life. He told me that when he was sworn in he had some reservation because he wanted to do it at his church. He said he thought about it and decided it was his swearing in and it was not a political function and his church family had backed him all these years. He said he is so glad he did. The church was packed to capacity. Sheriff Abernathy put it all into a few words when he said, “I’ve been blessed.”
Between the sheriff and his three top ranking officers they have over a hundred years of combined service and he said, “You know what? We’re doing it because we like to do it.” That is a lot of experience.
Sheriff Abernathy’s career started when he graduated from the University of Alabama ROTC and spent ten years as an MP and during that time he also did a tour in the Persian Gulf at a time when the Iran was becoming unstable. We both chuckled at a comment that he made when he said the happiest he had ever been was when he returned home and saw the sign, “Entering Tuscaloosa County”. Having been on three continents and seven countries I identified with what he was saying. We both agreed that if everyone would take one trip in their lifetime to a third world country we believe their thinking would change real quickly about our country and how truly blessed we are. Sheriff Abernathy continued in law enforcement and became Deputy Chief in 1998 at the Tuscaloosa Sheriff Department. He became the Sheriff in 2015.
Our attention turned to the different gun rights groups and the passion that most members feel about their second amendment right. He made it known that he understands the extremes that you will find in any group the size of BamaCarry and that not all people represent us well. As he said, “In any group you are always going to have people that go the extremes one way or the other that is just the way it is.” I am glad that he understands this and it shows the wisdom that this man possesses.
Somehow the conversation shifted gears and we ended up discussing pastors / evangelists and I relayed my feelings how an evangelist job is to challenge and ignite God’s people but as a pastor it is to “feed” God’s people. A Sheriff’s job is similar to a pastor as he must feed the people that work for him, be their leader and stand with them when things are not right and gently lead them through those difficult times. We both agreed that God calls men into ministry and that does not mean everyone is called to preach. God calls men into all types of professions. Sheriff Abernathy no doubt found what God called him to do when he entered law enforcement and he said so. Myself I see the advantage of having Christian men and women who know Christ and have Him leading them in decisions that they have to make. I was truly impressed with Sheriff Abernathy and his boldness in his faith. It has directed him in making decisions that affect many lives from employees to those who have found themselves on the wrong side. I asked him if he ever became overwhelmed with what he sees i.e. the shattered lives, the destruction of families, or the total destruction of a young person’s future from the results of sin. He put it well when he said, “You try to do the right thing and you try to do the best you can.” Basically he was saying you must let go and not take it home with you.
1 “If you stay here 25 years or for however long you, will make a difference in someone’s life.” He then related a story how that when the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa a few years ago, after coordinating efforts with his department for their effort in the county, he then jumped into his vehicle and went to a local nursing home. He quickly started doing whatever needed doing to help. As he said, “You’re not thinking. You’re just solving problems.” He went on to say, “A year and a half later I take a half day off and spend it with my son the day before school starts and we are enjoying a Popsicle and our time together. I go to pay my bill and I am told it is paid for. The owner tells me that a gentleman has paid my bill and he points him out to me. I walk over to him and thanked him but asked why he did that. The gentleman responded, “You don’t know me but my mother was in the nursing home that you entered the day of the tornado. I will never forget the things you did and how hard you worked helping those people.” What he was saying was that it is these kinds of things that you take with you the rest of your life. He went on to say that, “when you get older and retire you’ll be able to look back and say, I made a difference in that life.”
2. The second thing I tell them is this, “At some time in these 25 years somebody is going to call in here and complain on you. You’re going to feel like you’re going to get fired. It is because nobody likes to get a ticket, nobody likes to go to jail, and nobody likes to get arrested. I’m telling you this phone behind me will ring and when it does I will support you 110 percent….if you’re telling the truth.” He went on to say that “When this happens, even if you have done nothing wrong, you are going to feel like you’re hanging from a tree limb, your arms are going to be quivering and when you look up you’re going to see me and I’m going to pull you up onto the tree limb if you’re telling me the truth. But I said if you lie to me, even if it is just a little bit then I have to assume everything else is a lie. Then you will hear a sound. That will be the sound of me cutting the tree down.” Sheriff Abernathy went on to say that typically if someone gets terminated here it is usually not about what they did but rather it is about what they did and they did not tell the truth about it.” He went on to say that everyone makes mistakes and many times an officer has to make a decision in a split second right or wrong. Being truthful about why he made the decision is the important thing.
I asked him about campus carry. He replied that he has thought about it a lot and he said, “As sheriff my job is to enforce the law whatever it be. I’m not a legislator. They make the laws and I enforce them whether I like it or don’t like them is not the question.” He went on to explain that when open carry started to become popular he would get the call about a man with a gun. “I explained that it was not against the law.” He went on to say that just as he has a responsibility to the citizen that chooses to open carry he also has a duty to the citizen that doesn’t like it or want it in their business. He said, “Just as I explain to them the open carrier has the right I also have to explain to the business owner that to not allow it then here is what the law requires.” He went on to say that his job is to help the citizen whatever it may be and his job is to enforce the law not make it. As for Campus Carry he said, “I am about the empowerment of the people. If the people feel campus carry is what they want then that is how it should be.” Fair enough I say.
We moved on to SB14 (vehicle permitless carry) and I guess if there is any place we would disagree it would be here. Don’t get me wrong. Sheriff Abernathy has no problem with SB14 other than how it will work as to whether the pistol should be concealed as in the console or the glove box. Most states require it to be visible if you are carrying in your car without a permit. Sheriff Abernathy feels it is an officer and a citizen safety issue. Having a permit or not having a permit will change nothing that I can see. He did agree that whatever they pass, if they do, needs to be written in plain English so it is understandable to anyone. We did discuss how most gun law in this state can be left open to interpretation of the courts and he wished that legislators would see to it that laws are written clearly. We chuckled at how so much coming out of Montgomery is not clear and one wonders if even they understand it. (Another article)
Conversation turned to BamaCarry and the work we are doing. Sheriff Abernathy really holds BamaCarry in high regards and considers us a liaison between his department and the people of the state and more specifically Tuscaloosa County. We discussed how BamaCarry was working to straighten out a lot of misconception between people and law enforcement. He was really appreciative of the Law Enforcement Appreciation Day that the Tuscaloosa Chapter of BamaCarry put on for the officers and their families last summer. BamaCarry felt that officers were taking a beating during this time with all of the things that were happening around the country. It seemed as though the whole country was against anyone wearing a uniform. BamaCarry has never felt this way and we wanted officers all over the state to realize that we appreciate the job they are doing.
Sheriff Abernathy said, “It is all about communication.” He went on to say, “We are lucky to have that here with BamaCarry. I am close to Paul Arnold (group leader in Tuscaloosa) and he knows as I know either one of us can and do call if we have a question or if we have a problem that comes up. I am so thankful for that.” It is great he said, “The Department uses BamaCarry as a tool to promote what is legally correct, “and he said, “One of his goals was for BamaCarry to use his department also as a tool.” He went on to say that he hopes that as BamaCarry grows and becomes stronger that we will all work together to get better laws passed and continue to be there for each other.
I asked him how the permitting process was going since Alabama had become a “shall issue” stae and he said they are covered up. He had to put two people on just to handle the added load. He did say he would like to establish a 20.00 application fee and apply it toward a person’s permit cost if they are eligible to obtain a permit. He said they are having a problem with people who cannot qualify continuing to reapply every so often in the hope that they can slip through the crack. This would stop that.
In closing I told the sheriff that I am sure he is aware that he has more power in his county than the feds do and that he does not have to enforce unconstitutional law. He quickly acknowledged that comment and said there were some things he would not enforce and that they would have to do it if they wanted it done i.e. drones.
This article nowhere comes close to all we discussed mainly because it was more like two old friends having a chat about a lot of things besides gun law. One thing I will say is that Sheriff Abernathy is a very fair man and is very committed to serving the people of his county. Is he perfect? No and neither is anyone else reading this. I have met only one perfect person and that was Jesus Christ in 1973. What I can appreciate about Sheriff Abernathy can be summed up in one word, “approachable”. He has that ability to say, “Come on, let’s sit down and talk.” It is called communication and respect. I can promise you that Tuscaloosa County is blessed to have Sheriff Abernathy and my life is richer because of the two hours I spent with this man.