Candidates for House District 99 debated gun control, Confederate monuments, schools and other issues in a wide-ranging forum at Canaan Baptist Church Thursday, May 17.

The biggest division among the seven of eight candidates — former Mobile Mayor Sam Jones, attorney Gregory Harris II, former Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas, Henry Haseed, Franklin McMillion, Rico Washington Sr. and Burton LeFlore — running for the Democratic nomination for the seat came on a question about banning 18-year-olds in Alabama from purchasing long guns.

Jones spoke out against “assault” weapons. Many debates on the merits of gun control revolve around so-called “assault-style” weapons. Jones told the crowd at the event hosted by the Mobile County Democratic Executive Committee that high-powered weapons are not needed for hunting.

“There’s no reason to sell assault weapons,” Jones said. “The reason people buy them is to shoot people. We need a gun control law that is unparalleled to any other in the country.”

As mayor, Jones said, he helped lead a crackdown on area pawn shops that illegally sold guns to teenagers.

Harris jumped at the opportunity, using Jones’ example to craft his own response to the question. He said he would work to raise the age to buy long guns to 18, but offered the focus should be on getting rid of illegal weapons.

“I support the Second Amendment,” Harris said. “We should go after all illegal weapons on the street. Don’t punish law-abiding citizens … ”

Haseeb said he felt it was important to look into the cause of gun violence in order to find a solution.

“Until we get to the root and bring all of us together, we have to discuss it and find a solution that will fit us in this district,” he said.

LeFlore said as a member of the Legislature he would work to find a balance between gun rights and gun control, because the state is full of “gun fanatics.”

“I’m a firm believer that we, as Democrats, need to be inclusive,” he said. “Democrats are going to have to modify their stance on gun rights. Alabamians don’t want guns taken away.”

McMillion, a Navy veteran, said he supports a ban on “assault” weapons or a “weapon of war.”

Thomas said he prefers a common-sense approach, but agreed with Jones that there is “no legal reason to have an assault weapon.”

The state should also work to address mental health and socio-economic issues, which play a role in gun violence, he said.

Giving students in middle school training in conflict resolution would help solve some of the problems related to gun violence, said Washington, a Mobile County constable, although he agreed with the majority of the candidates who said there’s no reason to allow assault-style weapons.

“A shotgun or a pistol is good enough,” he said.

The candidates were more in line with one another when it came to doing away with a law protecting the state’s Confederate monuments.

Haseeb said he would support repeal of the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, calling it another “Jim Crow” law. He said that, with the bill, legislators were not listening to a large number of people in the state.

“Whether you make up the majority or not, we’re not listening to you,” he said.

Thomas said he would support repeal as well, saying the monuments in question should be in a museum, but not on public streets and in public parks. McMillion agreed.

“Monuments are history and history is another man’s truth,” McMillion said.

Harris simply said the “law is bad” and “needs to go.”

Democrats did not have the votes to stop the law from moving forward, Jones said.

“It’s ill-advised and never should have been passed,” he said. “Every legislator on this side of the aisle voted against it.”

For LeFlore, the bill brings up the issue of legislative priorities. He joined the rest of the panel in being a solid supporter of repeal.

“Too many represent slavery, too many represent Jim Crow,” LeFlore said of the monuments. “I would repeal it.”

Like LeFlore, Washington said there should be bigger issues for the Legislature than monuments. He said legislators should be more concerned with spreading prosperity throughout the state.

To better serve students in the district, the candidates offered a list of ideas for the state’s education system. 

“We need to change the language so we don’t call children a failure,” Harris said. “That’s the last thing a child needs to hear.”

In addition to making sure students and teachers have the resources they need, Harris said an expansion of activities and groups outside school would also help youth stay on target.

Calling himself the “candidate for change,” Haseeb said funding would need to be increased.

“If we want more, we have to demand more,” Haseeb said. “We need a candidate for change who’s going to work for the betterment of all people.”

For Jones, it comes down to a lack of resources, a lack of teachers in a number of schools and a lack of parental involvement.

LeFlore said the state should treat its education system like many treat football at The University of Alabama.

“We need to take as much pride in education as the state does in football,” he said.

He also said more funding of pre-kindergarten programs would help students get off to a good start.

McMillion said there is inequity in schools throughout the state in the way funding is doled out.

“If we don’t change the way money flows, the results will be the same,” he said.

Thomas said the state should do a better job of addressing the concerns of teachers and parents. Washington suggested setting up a commission to study the whole system.