By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala, (AP) — Alabama lawmakers advanced legislation Wednesday that would end the requirement for a person to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the House-passed bill, which now moves to the Alabama Senate.
Gun rights advocates have championed the proposal they call “constitutional carry.” They argue that people should not have to get a permit, which requires a background check and paying a fee, to carry a handgun they legally own.
Many state sheriffs and other law enforcement officials have opposed the legislation, arguing the permits provide a crucial tool to combat crime and enhance public safety.
Republican Rep. Shane Stringer, the sponsor of the bill, said people “shouldn’t have to get permission to carry” a legally owned handgun.
“House Bill 272 simply allows law-abiding citizens that are legally able to own a firearm to carry that gun concealed or on or about their persons or in their vehicle without a permit,” Stringer, a former captain with the Mobile County sheriff’s office, told the committee.
Law enforcement officials spoke against the bill in a public hearing
“I assure you, it would take away some of our ability to protect our communities with a tool that effectively removes weapons from the hands of criminals,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones, the current president of the Alabama Sheriffs’ Association, told the committee.
Alabama currently requires people to get a concealed carry permit, which requires a background check, to carry a handgun under their clothes or in a purse or bag when they go in public. The bill would do away with the requirement, but people could still choose to get a permit if they wanted. It would also do away with the current requirement for people without concealed carry permits to keep handguns unloaded and secured when driving.
There are 21 states that allow concealed weapons in public without a permit, according to Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“In the 21 states that have passed this legislation, there’s been absolutely no increase in crime or decrease in officer safety as associated with the law. That will remain the same here in Alabama,” Art Thomm, state director for the National Rifle Association, told the committee.
A Democratic member of the committee, who recently had her home shot into 23 times, questioned the assertion that there would be no impact on crime.
“It’s already like a wild, wild west. And I can just only imagine that this is going to help it escalate somewhat, because people are going feel more brazen,” said Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, a Democrat from Mobile.
Proponent of the bill said the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is developing a database, authorized by a state law creating a lifetime concealed carry permit option, that officers will be able to use to flag people not legally entitled to carry a handgun.
Stringer maintained that will be a better tool for law enforcement officers to remove guns from people who can not legally posses them. The database is not operational yet.
Jones said that while the idea of the database is good, he believes it will have inevitable gaps in data.
Amanda Wasden, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, said the database is currently in the developmental phase. She said the testing phase will begin in August and the agency has a goal of having it fully operational by Oct. 1 as the law requires.