Permitless carry gun bills gaining support

Permitless carry gun bills gaining support

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Three weeks from the start of the 2022 session, four bills ending the requirement for concealed carry gun permits have been filed and seem to have more support, including from House leadership, than in previous sessions.

In the Senate, Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, has pushed a permitless carry bill since the 2015 session. He said he feels more momentum for the upcoming session. 

His Senate Bill 1 would abolish Alabama’s requirement to obtain a state permit to carry a concealed handgun in public and in vehicles.

Allen said attitudes are changing nationwide and “finally citizens seem to understand how important it is to be able to protect themselves, their property and their families.”

He said people want to protect their right to bear arms.

The significant difference between some of the bills filed for the upcoming session is how they change firearms rules at athletic stadiums, including at high schools.

Current law lists several places where firearms aren’t allowed even with a concealed carry permit, including law enforcement offices and courthouses.The law also says firearms aren’t allowed “at any facility hosting an athletic event” including K-12 schools or colleges, unless the gun owner has a permit.

But Rep. Andrew Sorrell said that without checking everyone for weapons before entering an athletic event, the law is only disarming the people who follow it. His bill would strike that provision of state law.

“If you’re going to prohibit people from carrying a gun into a certain place, then you have to prohibit everyone from doing it and you have to ensure that they’re prohibited from carrying,” Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, said. That has to be done with metal detectors and armed guards.

“If you’re going to disarm me, I want to know that everyone else in there is disarmed as well,” he said.

Sorrell’s House Bill 44 eliminate the need for a person to obtain a concealed carry permit in order to carry a pistol and strikes athletic facilities from the list of places people can’t carry unless they have a permit.

He used the example of the football game at the University of Alabama. 

“Everyone goes through metal detectors there, so guns are still going to be prohibited there,” he said.

“But if it’s just the high school sports stadium, where nobody’s actually checking to see if anybody has a weapon or not, I don’t want to deprive the law-abiding citizens of a weapon.”

His bill has 38 co-sponsors, including House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia.

Meanwhile, Rep. Shane Stringer, R-Citronelle, who was fired from his position with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Department earlier this year because his previous permitless carry bill was opposed by his sheriff, is working on another bill and gathering co-sponsors. Stringer already filed one concealed carry bill for next session, House Bill 6, but said he won’t move it.

County sheriffs for years have opposed efforts in the State House for “constitutional carry” bills. They say the permits help law enforcement know the legal gun owners from criminals and help protect the public. Meanwhile, the annual permits are revenue generators for departments.

Allen said the bills don’t do away with concealed carry permits. They’re still needed to take weapons across state lines.

“The citizens will still have the opportunity to purchase those permits,” he said.

Stringer had 30 years of service in law enforcement. His son and several cousins are police officers.

“(My bill) is not going to hurt them,” he said.

He notes that current state law allows people to carry visible firearms in public without a permit.

“But if I put my suit coat on, or get in my vehicle, then I need a permit,” Stringer said. 

He also said his bill won’t change where guns can be carried now.

Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, is sponsoring the Senate version of Stringer’s bill.

“Frankly, you shouldn’t have to pay a fee for the right to do what the Constitution says you can do. But that right doesn’t override my right to say, ‘No, you’re not coming on my property with a gun.”

A call to the Alabama Sheriffs Association was not returned Monday.  

The Alabama chapter of Moms Demand Action, a national gun control advocacy group, has advocated against previous bills.

Rhonda Pendleton, state legislative lead for Moms Demand Action, said the group will oppose the proposals in 2022.

“If permitless carry is passed, this would allow people in Alabama to carry hidden, loaded handguns without a background check or any safety training,” Pendleton told Alabama Daily News on Monday. “And that puts Alabama’s communities at risk of more gun violence and weakens our public safety by allowing individuals with dangerous histories and those who haven’t undergone any firearm safety training to carry hidden, loaded guns in public.

“Requiring a permit and background check before being able to conceal carry a firearm is a common sense way to ensure responsible gun ownership and protect Alabamians from gun violence. We can’t afford to strip away this life-saving requirement.”

Changing momentum

Sorrell, who is running for State Auditor next, has sponsored permitless carry bills since 2019.

Sorrell said leadership’s support of his bill sends a “significant message” about the issue’s importance. He also said the Speaker promised him the bill would get to the House floor for debate.

“We’ve never, never, had a vote on constitutional carry on the floor of the Alabama House,” Sorrell said.

A comment from McCutcheon wasn’t available Monday.

Sorrell said that while he’s put in years of legwork and would like his bill passed, he’s also supportive of Stringer’s.

“Shane Stringer literally got fired from his job over this issue,” Sorrell said.

Still, Sorrell said he wants “a clean bill that’s not watered down.” 

‘Prohibited person’ list

In the 2021 regular session, lawmakers and Gov. Kay Ivey approved a bill creating a lifetime concealed carry permit and requiring the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to develop a statewide firearm “prohibited person” database. 

Rep. Proncey Robertson, R-Mt. Hope, sponsored the House version of the bill and said it will bring all 67 counties under the same permit process and does not inhibit a person’s Second Amendment right to bear arms.

On Monday, he said that law has helped pave the way for more permitless carry support.

“That is the real tool that law enforcement needs,” Robertson said about the database that’s supposed to be functional in 2022.

“If you’re ever convicted of something that would make you fail a background check, you’re going on the list,” he said. “… Any law enforcement officer who understands what the prohibited database does will care less about a permit now.” 

He compares the prohibited offender law to the state sex offender registry. 

“It’s a bad guy list, just like the sex offender registry is a bad guy list.”

“A pistol permit is like making someone go get a card every year saying they’re not a sex offender,” he said. “Why do we need to do that?”

Robertson is a co-sponsor on Sorrell’s bill but said he and the caucus will probably push Stringer’s bill, which he also plans to co-sponsor.

The legislative session begins Jan. 11.