North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

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April 2, 2013

Beason's gun-rights bill meets opposition from law enforcement, business groups

A gun-rights bill that the Alabama Senate is expected to take up in the next few days is meeting with opposition from business and law enforcement organizations.

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, is sponsoring the bill, which is “simply a clarification of Alabama’s gun laws,” said Beason in a February NJN article.

The bill addresses concealed-carry laws, whether an individual can have a pistol in his vehicle without having a concealed weapon permit, whether an employee can have a gun in his car in the parking lot at work and other issues.

In effect, the bill would give individuals with gun permits the right to keep guns in their vehicles at work or on their person in businesses, unless business owners ask them to remove the gun from the premises.

The bill would also change the wording in existing law that ends a sheriff’s discretionary power in issuing concealed-carry permits. Instead of saying a sheriff “may” issue a permit to someone not barred by law, the new bill says he or she “shall” issue a permit. 

Beason said that is to end any possibility of prejudicial issuing of gun licenses.

Law enforcement officers, however, see it a different way.

“I believe this bill will trample the property rights of business owners and individuals,” said Gardendale Police Chief Mike Walker. “It will also place an undue hardship on local governments.”

The president of the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police (AACOP) agrees.

That organization is opposed to the bill as it is written, according to AACOP President Nathaniel Rutledge Jr., who is also the Bessemer police chief.

“It is our belief that the hands of law enforcement will be tied because of the language that can restrict the needed authority,” Rutledge said. “The idea that persons would have greater license to possess pistols in all or most public venues is cause for alarm. ...The carrying of a readily-accessible pistol places law enforcement in more imminent danger while attempting to ensure public safety.”

The Alabama Sheriff’s Association is also on record as opposing the bill.

Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale worked with Beason during the formulation of the bill. Hale said the senator made a number of suggested changes to the bill, and Beason incorporated some, but not all. Hale said he and most other sheriffs support most of the bill’s provisions, but he still opposes giving pistol permits to those under 21.

“Right now I don’t give anyone under 21 a pistol permit, except under extreme circumstances,” Hale said. “If it’s someone who’s been to Iraq and mustered out of the Army, I’ll issue one.

“But think of this: Let’s say there’s kids from Gardendale or Fultondale hanging out on Friday or Saturday night, and some other kids come over from Corner or Locust Fork and there’s some bad blood. Under Beason’s bill, some 18-year-old might try to impress a 15-year-old by breaking out a gun.”

Hale said that for the most part, sheriffs think the reasons for a person having a concealed-carry license are valid as they stand now, and they’ve held up in the courts.

“We understand that there are some sheriffs who have abused their right to turn down some folks,” Hale said. “There should be an appeal process for those who are turned down. But out of 58,000 applications to my office, I have only turned down 289.”

Hale said Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, will be introducing a bill in the House that addresses some of the concerns of law enforcement officials.

Walker said most local police chiefs have also expressed opposition to the bill, but the Jefferson County Chiefs Association has not issued an official stance on the issue.

“There is no doubt that measures must be taken to better safeguard our communities from those who present threats to life and order,” Rutledge said, “but to restrict those who are sworn to provide such needed protection would be disastrous to the peace of our state.”

In addition to many in law enforcement, the Business Council of Alabama is also opposing the proposed bill, primarily the portion which keeps businesses from prohibiting their employees from having firearms inside their parked vehicles.

Beason’s bill was introduced on Feb. 5, and sent to the Committee on Business and Labor. It is expected to be reported out of committee in the next few days.

Robert Carter contributed to this article.

This version contains additional comments from law enforcement officials which became available after our print-edition deadline.

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