Armed and banking: Open-carry activist challenges arrest for wearing pistol at credit union
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Aug 04, 2013 | 12983 views |  0 comments | 89 89 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville resident Jason Dean Tulley has been fighting for the right to do his banking with a pistol on his hip – and Alabama's new open-carry gun law may help him win his case.

Tulley, 36, was arrested two years ago after he entered First Educators' Credit Union in Jacksonville with a holstered pistol openly visible on his hip. Court records show Tulley was fined $200 and received no jail time.

That penalty was too much for Tulley, an activist for a statewide gun-rights group, who has appealed the case on the grounds that it violated his right to bear arms under Alabama law.

"It's just the way he prefers to travel in his day-to-day business, for his own protection," said Joseph Basgier, the Birmingham lawyer who is representing Tulley.

Tulley was charged with carrying a pistol on premises not his own. For decades, state law prohibited people from openly carrying weapons on property belonging to someone else. The law prescribed no penalty for offenders. Basgier said Jacksonville treated the incident as a "violation," something less than a misdemeanor. In court records, it’s listed as a misdemeanor.

In a hearing with the Court of Criminal Appeals earlier this year, Basgier said, he argued that the "premises not one's own" law was unconstitutionally vague. Basgier also maintains that past case law showed that people with permits to carry concealed weapons were also allowed to carry guns openly on property belonging to others. Basgier said his client has a concealed-carry permit; state law prohibits sheriffs from releasing the names of people with pistol permits.

But Basgier's strategy in the case changed dramatically this spring, when the Alabama Legislature passed a sweeping law favored by gun rights groups. Among other things, the law allows open carrying of firearms on almost all public property and at any private business where the owner hasn't expressly banned guns.

Basgier said he’s now arguing that Tulley’s case is moot under the new law.

Attempts to reach the new gun law’s sponsor, Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, for comment were unsuccessful.

'My right to defend'

Officials at First Educators Credit Union declined comment on the case, though one employee acknowledged that the credit union does now post a sign saying that guns are banned from the property.

Attempts to reach Jacksonville police Chief Tommy Thompson for comment on the case were unsuccessful. So were attempts to reach city attorney Marilyn Hudson and former city attorney Christopher McIntyre, who prosecuted the case originally but recused himself after leaving the position to accept a judgeship.

Tulley, too, is now quiet about the case. In a Facebook message, he told The Star he would not comment while his case is still under appeal.

But Tulley, who according to his attorney works in information technology, has been vocal about the case among the gun rights community. A YouTube video shows Tulley addressing a meeting of the grassroots open-carry group Alabama Gun Rights, where he accepted money from activists who held an impromptu shooting contest to raise money for Tulley's defense. Attempts to reach leaders of Alabama Gun Rights for comment were unsuccessful.

Late last year, Tulley showed up at a Calhoun County Commission meeting, asking commissioners to reverse their policy banning weapons from the county building where commissioners meet. Commissioners kept the ban in place.

Tulley told a Star reporter at the time that people have the right to carry weapons in the building to defend themselves from a potential attack.

“If that person is unstable and you want me to leave my weapon in my car, you’ve taken away my right to defend myself and my family,” he said.

Someone purporting to be Tulley has posted much of the legal paperwork from the case on a gun-rights website. And a 41-second video, purportedly shot by Tulley during his encounter with police at the credit union, is available on YouTube. Jacksonville police, in a 2012 press release, also stated that Tulley had posted a video of the encounter on Youtube.

A minor fad

Tulley is not the first gun-rights activist to challenge open-carry laws and post the resulting conflict on YouTube. A search of the site reveals dozens of videos of open-carry activists confronted by security guards, police officers and store managers — including one heated debate at an Alabama Hardee's restaurant and another, calmer video purportedly filmed at a Walmart in Mobile.

Directly challenging open-carry laws appears to be a minor fad among pro-gun activists, said Kristen Rand, legislative policy director for the Violence Policy Center, a group that advocated for tighter controls on firearms. She said open-carry advocates have taken to congregating at Starbuck's outlets because the coffee chain tends to allow weapons.

It's more dangerous than the activists realize, she said. The likelihood of an armed person injuring himself in a gun-related accident, she said, is far higher than the chance of successfully intervening to stop a robbery or other crime.

"All these guys think they're going to be the hero, and it never happens," she said.

Legal or not, carrying a gun into a bank is unwise, said Richard Cross, a bank security consultant and former vice president for security at the Bank of New York.

"You have to consider the point-of-view of a teller or a customer," he said. People who see someone entering a bank with a gun are likely to assume the bank is going to be robbed, he said.

Cross noted that banks often place restrictions on their customers that go beyond guns. In Florida, he said, most banks prohibit customers from wearing hats and sunglasses, either of which could be used to help a robber avoid being identified.

It's typical for actual bank robbers, he said, to enter a bank with gun in hand.

"If he'd been carrying it in his hand, the guard probably would have shot him," Cross said, referring to Tulley.

Alabama's new gun law doesn't allow people to carry pistols in public in their hands, only in holsters.

Basgier said that after taking on the Tulley case, he's had inquiries from other gun-rights advocates looking to challenge the state’s gun laws. Before Tulley, he'd never seen a case involving the state's open-carry laws.

"Before Jason came to see me, I had never heard of the statute he was accused of violating," he said.

A decision in the appeal could come this month, Basgier said. If it fails, he said, Tulley intends to take the matter to the Alabama Supreme Court.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.
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