The Alabama Senate has passed SB 286 regarding handguns in Alabama, and it now is being considered by the House of Representatives. It is far-reaching legislation that will have significant impact on people, businesses and our everyday lives. It makes the open carry of any firearm almost anywhere, including on the personal property of others and any public place, a formal legal right. It will create a lifetime permit to authorize the carrying of a firearm in a vehicle for a one-time $10 fee that will also cover members of the permit holder’s immediate family. You would still be required to purchase a concealed-weapons permit for concealed-carry away from your vehicle.
For honest people, removing the requirement to purchase a permit sounds good. It will save $20 a year and eliminate the annual trip to the sheriff’s office. All family members will be covered by a lifetime vehicle permit. Almost anybody will be able to carry a firearm with them as long as it is in plain view. That is the key issue with this bill. Everyone (except convicted felons) can carry. If you think honest people are happy about this, those not-so-honest or law-abiding are truly thrilled.
There are other things this bill would do. Today, the law requires you to have a permit to have a firearm accessible in your vehicle. The sheriff screens those applicants for suitability. People frequently arrested, drunkards, drug users, known gang members, the severely mentally and emotionally disturbed and those who have pending criminal cases cannot pass the background check. This bill would require absolutely no screening for anyone who chooses to open carry, so the people listed in the previous sentence would not be prohibited from open carry — anytime or almost anywhere.
Criminals who are otherwise disqualified to have a firearm can get their spouse or other family member to purchase the vehicle permit and they will be covered in a car as well as other restricted people. There is concern that people aged 18 and younger would not be prohibited from open carry. I know this sounds odd, but it is not illegal for a person under 18 to own a firearm. If I can own it, why can’t I carry it? This law only prohibits those forbidden by federal law to own or possess a firearm from open carry. Time will tell about that one.
So please understand that if this bill becomes law, your front yard, the local school, your church, the ball game, the grocery store, the movie theater, in a car or anywhere else, the person next to you can be openly carrying a weapon no matter who they are or what they have done in the past.
Visualize five gang members carrying their firearms in the mall or to the game. The angry guy who has already had a few drinks and is yelling at the referee can be armed and ready. The only way a business, school or other organization can stop someone or remove them for open carry is for the property owner to first personally order them to leave and then call a law enforcement officer. Only then can they be compelled to leave. Law enforcement will not be able to arrest them and there is no authority to limit who carries. If we arrest them for disorderly conduct or other crimes, they will get their gun back when they leave the jail. We will not be able to question them just for being armed and intimidating.
You must obtain and keep a driver’s license to drive in every state. This is not an issue for the good driver who obeys traffic laws. That law makes you as safe as possible by ensuring the other guy is qualified to drive on the road with you; otherwise, they are subject to arrest. The system isn’t perfect but it helps keep you safe. The requirement for a pistol permit is the same kind of logic. You can be sure the person that has a license has been tested. If not, they can be arrested.
If this bill passes the Alabama House of Representatives, it will be a game-changer for law enforcement and, most important, you and your family.
Larry Amerson is sheriff of Calhoun County and president of the National Sheriff’s Association.