By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
A new bill sponsored by State Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, is intended to clarify an assortment of laws regarding the public carrying of firearms.
Beason has introduced the legislation, tentatively numbered Senate Bill 129, in the new legislative session. The bill has six co-sponsors so far.
“It’s simply a clarification of Alabama’s gun laws,” Beason said. “There were beginning to be a number of different interpretations of what has always been considered the standard when it comes to when and where you can carry a pistol with you. We’re just trying to straighten all that out, and make the local municipalities understand that state firearms law pre-empts anything done locally.”
The bill has attracted attention partly because of the ongoing debate over gun control versus gun-owner rights, a debate which has gained new traction after the massacre at a Newtown, Conn., school.
Beason’s bill does not address specific classes of firearms such as assault rifles, or what firearms can be concealed or not.
“It’s broader than that — open carry, concealed carry, whether you can have a pistol in your vehicle without having a concealed weapon permit, or whether or not you can have a pistol in the parking lot where you work,” Beason said. “What we’ve had is what I consider abnormal applications of the law that have historically never occurred, and we’re just trying to let people know what they can and can’t do, and let local law enforcement know so that we don’t have the problems we’re beginning to see.”
Those “abnormal applications” have come from various sources, including city councils and law enforcement.
“It’s really not necessarily their fault. It’s just that they have begun to move away from the historical application of the law,” Beason said.
For instance, one existing law states that someone cannot have a pistol on property they do not control.
“In the past, when a person would bring a pistol in [to a business], either concealed or open-carry, the owner can say to that person that they would prefer they didn’t bring that pistol in, and that person would take it out to their car,” Beason said. “But we’ve had a couple of places where people have been arrested — not because they didn’t do what they were asked, but simply for having the weapon on the property. It’s never been administered that way.... But now if a law-enforcement officer sees you carrying and charges you with having [a gun] on property not under your control, that begins to limit your God-given right to bear arms.”
Alabama has always been an open-carry state, Beason said, adding that the law allows people to carry concealed weapons anywhere they are allowed to be carried openly.
“You would still be able to carry in most places that are open to the public, which is the way it’s always been,” he said.
Business owners who do not want someone carrying a firearm on their premises would still be allowed to ask such a person to leave, and then invoke trespassing laws if that request was refused.
The new bill would also change one word that would end a sheriff’s discretionary power in issuing concealed-carry permits. Instead of saying that a sheriff “may” issue a permit to someone otherwise not barred by law, the new bill says he or she “shall” issue a permit. “The sheriffs don’t like that part, but I don’t believe that sheriffs should have the ability to say, ‘Scott, I’m going to give you a permit, but I don’t like the way this other person looks so I won’t give them one.’”
Beason said there has been very little opposition to the bill so far, mainly because the state has historically been staunchly behind the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The bill is expected to see its first committee action next week.