By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers on Wednesday advanced legislation that would do away with the requirement for a person to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public.
A divided House Public Safety Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would do away with the current permit requirement for a person who carries a handgun under their clothes or in a purse or bag when they go in public. It would also do away with the current requirement for people without concealed carry permits to keep handguns unloaded and secured when driving.
The proposal now moves to the full Alabama House. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.
State sheriffs and other law enforcement officials have opposed the legislation, arguing that the permits provide a crucial tool to combat crime and enhance public safety. The bill has been championed by gun-rights groups who argue that people shouldn’t have to get a permit, which requires paying a fee, to carry a handgun they legally own.
“This bill gives law-abiding citizens, that are able to own a firearm, the ability to carry that firearm concealed, or in their car, for their protection. It’s not very complicated. It doesn’t change who can or cannot carry and it does not change where you can or cannot carry. It only addresses the permit itself,” Republican Rep. Shane Stringer of Citronelle said of his legislation.
There are 21 states that allow concealed weapons in public without a permit, according to Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Several sheriffs and other law enforcement officials attended the committee meeting at the Alabama Statehouse to oppose the bill.
“We are opposed to the bill because we know how unsafe it makes the community,” Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway told reporters after the vote. “It’s going to allow more guns to be on the street. We do not need more guns on the street,” Pettway said.
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones, the incoming president of the Alabama Sheriffs Association, said the permits are a tool that officers use daily to remove “weapons from the hands of individuals who should not have them in the first place.”
“We’re able in using the permit requirement — using that as a tool — to remove that weapon from that individual’s hands and take that individual into custody. And a lot of times that we’ll uncover evidence of other crimes as well, burglaries, thefts and even homicides and assaults,” Jones said.
Republican Rep. Allen Farley, a retired assistant sheriff from McCalla, said the fees from the permits help sheriffs buy bulletproof vests, put resource officers in schools and carry out other law enforcement functions.
“Let’s be serious. What we are doing here is defunding the police,” Farley said.
Similar bills have been introduced unsuccessfully Montgomery for at least the last five years. However, the House Republican Caucus this year has backed the legislation as an agenda item.
Proponents said the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is developing a database, authorized by a state law creating a lifetime concealed carry permit option, that officers can use to flag people not legally entitled to carry a handgun. Jones said the intent is good but said he didn’t think that would be effective because of the inherent gaps in collecting data.
Stringer, a former captain with the Mobile County sheriff’s office, has disputed the value of the permits in stopping crime.
“A $20 piece of plastic is not going to stop an evil-hearted person,” Stringer said.
Jones said after the meeting that he agrees that criminals won’t obey the law but said the current permit requirement “helps us” bring those criminals to justice.