Last week, Citronelle Republican State Rep. Shane Stringer was dismissed from his position as a captain in the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office by Sheriff Sam Cochran.
Reportedly, Stringer’s termination was because of his sponsorship of House Bill 618, which is legislation that would allow for the carry or conceal of a pistol without first obtaining a permit from the local sheriff’s office.
It is an effort the state’s sheriffs have opposed in the past. You could say — as was the case with the Cochran-Stringer situation — it is a hill to die on for many sheriffs around the state.
Suppose you take the anti-constitutional carry sheriffs at their word. In that case, the issue centers on public safety and law enforcement having the ability to keep guns out of the possession of those who could pose a threat to law enforcement and public safety.
However, one cannot ignore the financial incentive for sheriffs to want to maintain the status quo. With a permitting fee of $20 annually, concealed carry permitting results in excess of $1 million to the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office.
According to Cochran, the proceeds go to equipment, smartphones for officers and other various causes at the sheriff’s discretion.
It is the licensing and fee that has some gun-rights advocates up in arms. Should the government require a license and a fee for one to exercise a constitutionally guaranteed right?
We do not require a license or fee to exercise the freedom of speech, religion or expression as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Having stipulations tied to your right to vote, including a photo ID, is frowned upon by some.
Why require a “license” to carry a firearm? Obviously, there are public safety concerns and the expectation from some that the government protects citizens. However, it is an issue that has been debated for decades.
If funding is a reason, or even the reason, for the sheriffs to oppose constitutional carry, why not seek other sources of revenue?
Even if you are a believer in pistol permitting in the name of safety, that mechanism should not serve a revenue stream that is not accountable to the usual system of checks and balances and left solely up to the sheriff.
We have a legislative branch in Montgomery and a pseudo-legislative branch at Government Plaza responsible for the purse strings. If sheriff’s departments are underfunded, it ought to be the duty of the all-powerful Alabama Sheriffs Association to pressure those entities for more funding and not leave it up to departments to fend for themselves through other streams of revenue.
Lobbying for the status quo, which seems to be based on antiquated laws, is a misguided approach.
On the opposite side of this issue are the pro-constitutional carry folks. In Alabama, one of the most vocal advocates of ending the concealed carry permit requirement is a group called Bama Carry.
The group is made up of 34 chapters around the state that meet regularly and are, in some cases, very vocal about their support on this issue.
Often, the ire is directed at the Alabama Legislature, which at times is misguided as well.
As with about a dozen other issues, those who dwell in the right-of-center world of politics are dumbfounded by the notion that a legislature with a Republican supermajority cannot get no-brainer conservative bills, such as constitutional carry, passed and signed into law by the governor.
What could be the holdup? How could a Republican state representative or senator be opposed to a stalwart defense of the U.S. Constitution?
It is the sheriffs in most of the 67 counties. They do not all march to the beat of the same drum. Some support the constitutional carry concept, but that is a minority. Lawmakers, particularly those with law enforcement backgrounds, hear from the sheriffs’ association and the county sheriffs demanding they oppose any efforts to repeal a concealed carry permit.
If this is your issue and you are not getting the democracy in action you think you deserve on gun permits, take the fight to the local level and contest incumbent sheriffs.
Even if Alabama sheriffs are protecting the current system, made up of a patchwork of local legislation that determines the fee for a pistol permit in their respective counties, and doing so in the name of public safety, force them to defend a framework that provides a financial incentive for county sheriff’s departments that is typically left up to the sole discretion of the elected sheriff.
Polling shows Republican voters support the concept of constitutional carry. Overall, voters are suspicious of sheriffs in Alabama, especially on the heels of the jail food fund fiasco that plagued different areas of the state over the past several years.
My advice to Alabama sheriffs is to recognize that without an amendment to the Constitution, which is not coming anytime soon, the current way of doing business will always face some level of public scrutiny.
For those who would like to see a change, keep in mind not much has changed in decades. What you have been doing for the last several years is not working.
Why keep taking the same approach and why do so and run the risk of more incidents like what has happened with Sheriff Cochran and Representative Stringer, which is not a good outcome for anyone?
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