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ALEA, law enforcement associations back firearm modification ban

MONTGOMERY, Ala –The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and several law enforcement associations have thrown their support behind an effort to ban firearm modifications that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire multiple rounds in quick succession.

That effort is led by Rep. Phillip Ensler, D-Montgomery, who earlier this year filed House Bill 35. It bans the possession of certain modified firearms, making it punishable with a minimum 100 hours of community service and a Class C felony upon second or subsequent violations.

More specifically, the bill would ban trigger activators, which are firearm modifications that allow a semi-automatic weapon – which requires a pull of the trigger for every round discharged – to shoot automatically with a single manual pull of the trigger.

On Tuesday, Ensler said that not only had ALEA endorsed HB35, but so too had the Fraternal Order of Police, the District Attorneys Association, and the Sheriffs Association.

Everette Johnson, president of the Alabama Fraternal Order of Police, said that law enforcement encounters with individuals in possession of modified firearms have increased as well, and that he and his organization felt strongly in its decision to back Ensler’s proposal.

“Officers on the street are faced with tremendous dangers day in and day out, and these modifications to these handguns making semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic is just another danger to our public safety, as well as our law enforcement,” Johnson told ADN.

“I think (the bill) would give officers the opportunity to make an arrest and get that weapon off the street, (and) it would empower our judicial system to prosecute these people in a much more timely manner. It just gives us another avenue of stopping this behavior and getting these perpetrators off the street.”

The bill has also amassed some support among Republicans, including from Rep. Ron Bolton, R-Northport, who previously told ADN that he supported the measure due to the high rates of gun violence in Birmingham, which lies just 20 miles northeast of his district.

Gun violence in Alabama has increased in recent years, with the rate of gun deaths increasing by 54% from 2012 to 2021, far higher than the national rate of 39% during the same time period. Today, an average of roughly 1,150 Alabamians die from gun violence every year, and 3,065 wounded, the 4th-highest rate of gun violence in the nation.

Ensler had introduced a near-identical bill last year in the wake of the deadly Dadeville birthday party shooting, an incident that left four people dead and 32 injured. The bill saw some success in committees, but ultimately never became law. 

Ensler refiled the bill last December, though this time with one minor change.

Unlike the previous version, the latest version of the bill would make a first-time violation punishable with community service, and not the Class C felony charge that would apply in second and subsequent violations. 

The change, Ensler told ADN, was due to the disproportionate number of younger Alabamians often found in possession of modified firearms, a younger population that Ensler argued would be better served by being granted a chance to avoid a felony conviction upon first violations.

As of Wednesday, the bill is eligible to be selected by the House Rule Committee to be placed on the House agenda, with its earliest possible appearance on the House floor being the week beginning on April 14.

Ensler told ADN that he is currently in talks with members of the Alabama Senate to get a companion bill filed in that chamber, in the hopes of the bill reaching Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk sooner as the 2024 legislative session reaches its final weeks.

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