State Senate bill would dilute a sheriff's authority to make gun permit decisions
by Brian Anderson
Mar 17, 2012 | 6756 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Some local law-enforcement officials are worried pro-gun legislation being considered in the state Senate is taking aim at their ability to reasonably protect the public.

Senate Bill 337, sponsored by state Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, would repeal a lot of Alabama gun laws, including restrictions on transporting concealed weapons without a permit, bringing a gun on another person’s property, and carrying a gun to a public demonstration.

But the one phrase and tweak that has some Alabama sheriffs worried is “suitable person.” Under the current law, a sheriff has the right to deny a pistol permit to anyone whom they deem unsuitable for the permit. In Beason’s proposed legislation, there’s a line through the “suitable person” section of the law.

Attempts by The Star to reach Beason on Thursday and Friday were unsuccessful.

Talladega County Chief Deputy Jimmy Kilgore said the legislation looks like an attempt to “recreate the wild west.”

“From my perspective, it’s a very scary thing,” he said.

Kilgore said current laws allow sheriffs to make reasonable limitations to issuing pistol permits, and protect public safety by keeping guns away from dangerous convicts who might not have restrictions otherwise to not carry weapons. Senate Bill 337 takes that discretion away from sheriffs, and Kilgore said the Alabama Sheriff’s Association in Montgomery thinks it’s a bad idea.

“We’re definitely opposed to that bill,” he said.

Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said the bill turns Alabama from a “may issue” state to a “shall issue” state and said there’s “example after example” why the legislation would be harmful.

“Just last week, a guy came in wanting a permit who had 15 previous felony charges,” said Amerson. Those charges included assaulting an officer and carrying a concealed weapon, but all had been lowered to misdemeanors, meaning under the law, there was nothing stopping him from applying for a pistol permit.

Currently, a sheriff has the discretion to deny a permit to such people. Under the proposed bill, the permit would have to be issued.

Just as troubling, Amerson said, is that the legislation also eliminates a “mechanism to revoke a permit,” which means once a permit is issued, it would be all but impossible for a sheriff to take it away.

“Every year, we deal with stuff like that,” Amerson said. “There’s just so many examples like that where this law wouldn’t allow us to make those decisions.”

Cherokee County Sheriff Jeff Shaver said the bill can be especially problematic in small rural areas, where the sheriff’s office will recognize residents who have had mental problems or dangerous disputes in the past.

“We know most of the people who come in to apply for a permit for a pistol,” Shaver said. “A lot of people aren’t just going to voluntarily tell you something, and it might not show up on a state report.”

Amerson said he believes the bill is well-intentioned but short-sighted. Pointing out an extreme example of the bill’s faults, he said under current law, it is illegal to sell a pistol to someone under the age of 18; it’s not illegal, however, for a minor to possess a pistol if a parent or guardian purchases it for them. And if they possess the weapon, they can register it and get a permit for it at the sheriff’s office, no matter their age.

“There’s not a sheriff in Alabama that’s going to issue that permit,” Amerson said. “But under this law, they’d have to.”

Amerson said the language in the current law was designed for sheriffs to deal with situations like these before they become a problem, and the new wording only complicates the issues surrounding gun ownership and pistol permits.

“The ‘shall’ provision is just going to open up a whole can of worms,” Amerson said.

Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star

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