The Alabama House of Representatives’s committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security is where permitless carry bills have gone to die. But it looks like gun rights advocates may finally see the matter addressed on the House floor.
There are five bills before legislative committees attempting to repeal Alabama’s requirement to be permitted by a sheriff to conceal carry a pistol.
Under current law, residents must obtain a license before concealing a pistol on their person or possessing a loaded gun in their vehicle. Alabama is already an open-carry state, meaning gun owners may carry weapons on their person as long as they are visible.
Though “constitutional carry” or “permitless carry” bills have been introduced in the Legislature for the past decade, they have never made it out of committee and been brought to vote on the House floor. However, momentum appears to be building as some key supporters have signed on as co-sponsors. In 2017, the Alabama Senate approved a constitutional carry bill, but it died in the House’s subcommittee.
Three bills are before the 15-member Public Safety and Homeland Security committee. This includes two bills by Rep. Shane Stringer, R-Citronelle, and one from Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals.
Stringer, who is a Public Safety committee member and former Mobile Sheriff’s captain, said one of his bills, HB 66 filed on Jan. 6, is likely to be the one considered and passed. The bill is an expansion of his previous HB 6 pre-filed last June and is more detailed in its provisions.
Current law makes concealed carrying without a permit a punishable offense of up to a $500 fine and up to six months in jail. The new law would repeal statutes making carrying a pistol concealed evidence of intent in cases of violence. The proposed law also eliminates some provisions prohibiting carry of concealed weapons in athletic venues. However, language is added in other portions of the law re-affirming gun prohibition at these venues.
HB 66 is also co-sponsored by 35 other representatives, including Sorrell, Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, Public Safety chairman Allen Treadway, R-Morris, and three other committee members — Tracy Estes, R-Winfield, Proncey Robertson, R-Mount Hope, and Tommy Hanes, R-Bryant. Sorrell’s HB 44 has 38 co-sponsors.
In the State Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, has filed another bill pushing for permitless carry. Allen has filed similar bills in the last several legislative sessions. The Alabama Senate passed his bill in 2017. Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, has filed Sorrell’s version of the bill in the Senate as well.
The Alabama House Republican Caucus released its agenda earlier this month, naming constitutional carry as one of its priorities in the 2022 Legislative session, which began Monday. Alabama Republican Party Chairman John Wahl has voiced his support for the plan.
“Constitutional Carry is an important piece of legislation, and I am proud to see the Alabama House Republican Caucus add it to their 2022 legislative agenda,” Wahl said in a statement. “The Alabama Republican Party firmly believes in the Second Amendment, and the right of the American people to keep and bear arms. We fully support the House Caucus on this issue.”
Additionally, the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR) delivered 35,000 signatures of Alabama citizens to the State House on Tuesday, urging the Legislature to pass permitless carry legislation.
“The people of Alabama are sending a clear message this election year,” said Dudley Brown, President of the National Association for Gun Rights. “They expect their elected officials in Montgomery to restore the Second Amendment and pass a true Constitutional Carry bill right away.”
According to NAGR, constitutional carry is “the simple concept that law-abiding citizens shouldn’t need to pay a tax and get permission from their sheriff to exercise their God-given right to keep and bear arms.”
State Democrats and Alabama Sheriff’s Association have been ardently opposed to eliminating these requirements.
Sheriff Association President and Montgomery Sheriff Derrick Cunningham told Lagniappe on Thursday his message has been consistent on this issue: Repealing this requirement will deal damage to Alabama communities.
“We’ve already experienced the highest year in violent crime in Alabama history,” Cunningham said. “Now you’re going to have just tons of people carrying guns. All we’re doing is pulling more to the streets.”
Last year, Cunningham said the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department denied nearly 500 applicants concealed carry permits. The city of Montgomery arrested and charged some 160 individuals for conceal carry without a permit last year, he said.
Cunningham said the association is actively working with state lobbying associations, including those for police chiefs, school superintendents, the business council, higher education, and county commissions.
Republican Mobile Sheriff Sam Cochran has been among the most vocal objectors in recent months. He has been able to garner political posturing from the Mobile County Commission and the Mobile and Baldwin Democratic parties who have all released statements condemning permitless carry efforts.
Cochran argues the current system gives officers probable cause to confiscate a gun if they observe an individual carrying a firearm on their person or in their vehicle without a permit. He says this can prevent violent crime. It also allows another layer of local discretion for sheriffs, who can deny applicants based on more nuanced factors, such as mental health and other concerning history. Mobile County denied more than 700 applicants last year.
Cochran admits permits are a source of discretionary funding for his department and they help pay for the department’s telecommunications.
According to financial records from the sheriff’s department, there were 63,550 new and renewed permits issued in 2020, generating $1.27 million in revenue.
Rep. Stringer has said in past interviews he would not support this legislation if he believed it would endanger law enforcement officers. Twenty other states have permitless carry laws, and Stringer says he has spoken with a number of sheriffs in these states and they have almost all told him there has been no effect on crime.
Any policing benefit to the concealed carry permit will be made up for with the state’s new prohibited person’s database, according to Stringer. That database was approved last year in legislation instituting a lifetime concealed carry permit.
Stringer has also reiterated his bill does not eliminate permits entirely, simply the requirement to have one to carry a concealed firearm in Alabama, and residents will have to continue to get licenses to concealed carry into other states where concealed carry laws are still in effect. He said this means other states have seen increases in permit purchases.
One of the stronger appeals of concealed carry permits has been the ability to use the permit to bypass background checks when purchasing firearms, however, Alabama residents no longer have that perk.
In 2019, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) investigation revealed that 18 of Alabama’s 67 sheriffs were not properly processing concealed carry permit applications through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). As a result, Alabamians can no longer use a concealed carry permit as an alternative to a NICS report when purchasing a firearm.
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here