I arrived about four o’clock at the office of Sheriff Shannon Oliver of Franklin County Alabama. Although we had spoken on the phone a couple times I was looking forward to meeting him face to face. Within minutes of meeting Sheriff Oliver I knew that I was going to make another friend in Law Enforcement. He has a humility about him that is impressive. Soft spoken but you can tell his word is his honor and words mean something to this man. His father was a preacher and you can tell Sheriff Oliver judges all things from his spiritual upbringing. We had a very good discussion and I would like to share a few highlights of our visit.
Sheriff Oliver has a very strong background in law enforcement. His career started at eighteen. He worked up through the ranks as a dispatcher, a jailer, a deputy sheriff, a Russellville police officer and then in 2011 he ran for sheriff and won.
Why law enforcement I asked. He said, “I had always wanted to be in law enforcement. My father worked in law enforcement for around eight years and I wanted to do the same.” “Right out of high school I went to work and when they laid me off at that job I went to the Chief Deputy, whom I knew, and he hired me to work in the jail.” I joked with him about going from a Christian home to a jail and how hard that must have been to deal with people who had wrecked their lives or were in the process. He told me that being a Christian actually better equipped him to handle the atmosphere. One thing you quickly see in Sheriff Oliver is his deep faith in Christ and the compassion he has for his fellowman. It has definitely equipped him to help wayward souls that end up in his facility. We actually had a very good theological conversation but that is for another day.
Before I asked the first question, Sheriff Oliver made a comment about gun groups. His comment was not made in a defensive or judgmental way but rather with a genuine “I am concerned” attitude.
He said, “I have noticed that most of the gun groups, the personalities between them and law enforcement are where things fall apart. It has nothing to do with guns, it is the personalities.”
I agreed with him. While we know there are bad law enforcement personnel we also know that there are bad people in every profession. It is a fact of life. BamaCarry has sought to open up channels of communication with law enforcement for the express purpose of easing some of the tension between law enforcement and citizens. We feel that we have made great strides in accomplishing this. In talking with Sheriff Oliver you realize that he does have a real concern that he wants to be a bridge between law enforcement and the people of his county. He realizes the help that the BamaCarry group in Franklin County under the leadership of Gary Blackburn have been to help him in this endeavor and actually depends on them somewhat to be a liaison between law enforcement and citizens.
The conversation shifted to mandatory training to carry a firearm. Sheriff Oliver is opposed to any type of mandatory training but however he feels that anyone that is going to take on the responsibility of protecting themselves by carrying a firearm should seek some type of good training and take what training they can. That is the stance of BamaCarry also. No one should react on an emotion to a news article about someone getting robbed, raped or killed and then run out and purchase a handgun and declare they are ready. You are not ready! Get some training!
I asked Sheriff Oliver his thoughts on open carry. He said, “I have no problem with it. I do however wish that people that open carry would invest in a good retention holster to take away the vulnerability that can be found in carrying in a crowd.” He has a good point. I myself cc if I am going to be in a heavily crowded venue. Situation awareness or not it is hard to know what is coming when people are so close they are literally rubbing shoulders with you. I have seen professional pick pockets at work. Don’t think for a minute your firearm cannot be removed without you knowing it if not secured.
He also reminded me as two other sheriffs have stressed, “Appearance is everything”. He said, “Who are you going to be concerned with, a man carrying a gun with his pants on the ground and his hat turned around or the man that is dressed for success”. That point is valid. BamaCarry has stressed this from our inception. Presentation is everything.
Franklin County has built a new jail and has 18 officers that work in the jail. I ask him if he ever did any one on one with inmates or ever got attached to any of the inmates and their situations. He told me that, “Sometimes you see the one that you think you can help with a little compassion and guidance.” He said, “Sometimes it works and sometimes it don’t.” He and I both agreed that unless the Holy Spirit arrests a man or woman’s heart they cannot change. The Sheriff said, “When God takes control they will change.”
With today’s climate of gun violence in the school I ask him his feelings on teachers carrying a firearm at school. He said, “I don’t have a problem with that. With proper training and the use of a good retention holster I see no problem with it.” We both agreed that times have changed and the America we grew up in is no more and we must adapt to what America is becoming. Israel has been doing it for years.
SB-14 (permit less vehicle carry) will be introduced again this year by Senator Gerald Allen. I asked Sheriff Oliver how he felt about it. He said, “A criminal is not going to try to get a permit so why should a law abiding citizen?” “After all you can carry a rifle or a shotgun now without a permit and your vehicle is an extension of your home”.
Sheriff Oliver, the Alabama Sheriff’s Association came out against SB-14 and made a blanket statement that all 67 sheriffs in this state were against SB-14. Were you contacted? He said, “No I was not and I have no idea how that came about unless it was brought up at a meeting I didn’t attend but no I did not say that” (that he was against SB-14). He went on to say that, “It is kind of frustrating. I don’t believe that all 67 sheriffs feel that way”. I assured him that I knew two other sheriffs personally that did not say they were against SB-14 and that they were never asked.
I asked Sheriff Oliver how he felt about gun free zones. While he understands that people who own businesses have the right to post their establishments he feels it would be better not to. He said, “I don’t like gun free zones….I think that if you post your business then that opens up some doors that would be better left closed”. He went on to say, “A no gun sign is an invitation and I think you are setting yourself up for a bad situation”.
Sheriff Oliver stated that he had no problem with people carrying a firearm into a polling place where that place does not fall under state law i.e. a county court house. Many of the voting places are on private property and not subject to state law. He said there was not one incident of being called because someone was carrying a firearm and stated that he knew a number of people that voted while open carrying a firearm. He went on to say that whether you carried a gun in your pocket or on your side it made no difference. A gun is a gun. As a matter of fact Shelby County might have been the only county that put up “No Firearms Allowed” signs in the state.
On universal background checks (UBC), Sheriff Oliver agrees that we do not need them because a criminal cannot pass one anyhow. UBC’s only work for LAC’s and he feels what we have in place now are enough. He went on to say that a good guy walks up to a locked door, sees it is locked and then turns and walks away. The bad guy walks up to the locked door, sees it is locked and then proceeds to kick the door down. That is how they will continue to treat background checks. They will purchase their weapon illegally or steal them. UBC’s will not solve a thing.
We turned our attention to the media and how it looked like we are headed for a Police State. He said he had no real fear of this but that he did understand why people could be concerned with all that has happened in places like Ferguson. The media has really played things up and it is proven many times that the media reacted before they had the facts in their hurry to break a story. And yes it does seem like there is a bias against the officer.
In closing I told the Sheriff that I wished more officers would use what the scripture calls “righteous judgement” in dealing with people. He knew exactly what I was talking about. Sometimes an officer can judge wisely rather than judge by the law. An officer sometimes can use his own discretion in whether to arrest someone or perhaps give someone a break and point them in the right direction. I know because many years ago an officer had to make a decision to either ruin my future or take a chance that I could be salvaged. He chose the latter and I will grateful until the day I die. Sheriff Oliver is a man of that caliber. I must say that my life has been enriched just to spend an hour with this man. I left with a feeling of thanking the Lord that He has men like Sheriff Shannon Oliver in places of authority.