A Morning with the Sheriff

Next stop on the “becoming a Michigan resident” tour: the Ingham County Sheriff’s office, to register my pistol. It seemed a bit “big brother-ish” to be presenting a firearm to the police and seeking permission to continue owning it. But every state has its own gun laws, and I wanted to make sure I was following them from the start. As soon as I can complete the requisite training course, I plan on getting a concealed carry permit (in my opinion the way in which Michigan gun laws are far and away better than those of Illinois); my pistol would need to be registered then, anyhow.

And even before then, suppose I had to use the gun to defend our family against an intruder. After the incident is over, and the police arrive to make their report, what do you suppose the first question will be? “Could I see your registration certificate for that handgun?” And, “I, uh, came here from out of state and didn’t know I had to register it” probably will not suffice as an answer. At least long guns need not be registered, so I guess Michigan laws are still a whole lot less intrusive than they could be.

Anyhow, there I was yesterday morning in line at the Sheriff’s office. Ahead of me, at the counter, was a very nice older gentleman who was also presenting a handgun for inspection. After I mentioned that I’d recently moved here from out of state, he struck up a conversation about the local gun shop. As we waited for the clerk to process his paperwork, he told me all about the place and what they have to offer: huge selection, wonderful indoor firing range (“they open at ten, and I’m going over there right now”), gunsmith services, and so forth. I was actually disappointed the clerk finished with him so quickly. Funny how a common interest in something like firearms, which the general public largely does not understand, can create such an instant bond between two people who wouldn’t seem similar to each other on the surface.

The registration process took quite some time, in part because I didn’t yet have a Michigan driver’s license. However, as mentioned in recent posts, I did have a voter registration card — and I also had that (expensive) dog registration for Scooter. The clerk had to check with her supervisor, but eventually agreed to accept those documents as proof of residency. The “safety inspection” of my pistol (which is what the process is supposedly about) was a joke; she basically just picked up the gun, looked at it from a few different angles, and then set it down. I spent much more time filling out forms, taking a “test” (which was a series of common sense True/False statements about gun safety that any of my kids probably could have passed), and so forth. I was actually surprised they didn’t photograph and fingerprint me, but I guess they’re saving that for when I get a CCW permit.

Anyway, while I was standing there waiting for the clerk to finish something, a very odd (and sad) incident took place. A woman came into the lobby, and asked another clerk if she could talk to a police officer about a domestic issue. The clerk directed her to a deputy, who met with her in another part of the lobby. The deputy, who struck me as an incredibly nice guy and very professional, listened patiently as the woman explained, “It’s my eleven year old. He’s completely out of control, and I just can’t take it anymore. I honestly don’t know what to do. I need the police to get involved, and don’t know how to go about doing that.”

The deputy asked where she lived, and she gave an address in town. The deputy then explained that their jurisdiction only covers unincorporated areas of the county, so she would need to talk with someone on the local police force. “Can you give me a referral?” she asked. The deputy gave the name of an officer, explaining that he works with all the schools and covers all the problems related to juveniles. The woman thanked him sincerely, and then hurried out to her car.

As I waited for the clerk to finish processing paperwork, I couldn’t help reflecting on what I’d just observed. First of all, the woman had appeared to be so average and ordinary: middle aged, middle class, tastefully dressed, well-kempt, well-spoken. She defied the exterior stereotypes that someone might usually associate with “homes that produce juvenile delinquents.” But what had been going on behind the exterior? What kinds of influences was her kid picking up at school? From older siblings? Did he have a father at home? A father who was involved and engaged in his life? There was no way to know, and it wasn’t fair to speculate. But one word kept pounding through my head: ELEVEN. Her completely-out-of-control son, who needed to be turned over to the police, is ELEVEN.

Why is this significant? I have an eleven year old son, too. I know what eleven “looks like.” Or, rather, I know what my own eleven year old son looks like and does. I could not, for the life of me, imagine a child that young and that innocent being so much of a demon as to cause his mother to seek assistance and protection from the sheriff.

I thought about that a lot as I waited for the clerk to finish my paperwork. And I kept thinking about it later, when I was at the local gun shop the man at the sheriff’s office had told me about. As the gun shop guy was getting me registered for the CCW training course, a 30-ish man came in with his son. The little boy couldn’t have been older than three, and was as cute as they come: big eyes, short brown hair, and very shy. As his father looked at rifles and bantered with one of the salespeople, the boy stood close by and seemed to be observing all of us with rapt attention. What a wonderful thing that his father brought him here with him this morning, I thought. Here was a father who was closely involved with his son’s life, spending one-on-one time together at a very young age, and from the beginning introducing his son to the strong, masculine and responsible culture of hunting and firearms. And this particular shop was an ideal setting: warm, clean, safe, well-organized, and staffed by men who were both friendly and knowledgeable. Assuming that the father stuck around and continued building these kinds of connections with his son, I figured the odds of this kid’s mother ending up in exasperation at a sheriff’s office were close to zero.

I walked back to my truck making a mental note to be more creative and forward-thinking about taking a kid with me on errands like these. Each trip to the gun shop, or bike shop, or hardware store, or auto parts store, or salvage yard…each of those trips comes only once, and each of them slips away so quickly. The big temptation, for me at least, is to make those trips and run those errands alone; there are fewer distractions, and fewer things to worry about when I’m by myself. The key is remembering that each of those trips out of the house is more than an errand: it is also an unrepeatable opportunity to share an experience with another little person.

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