The Alabama House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday passed two gun bills that opponents say would endanger the public and law enforcement if approved by the full Alabama House.
Committee members approved Senate Bill 358, which would create the Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act. It would prohibit state law enforcement and other officials from enforcing federal laws regarding firearms, firearms accessories and ammunition.
The committee also approved House Bill 405, which would allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon without having to apply for and receive a concealed carry permit, as is now state law.
Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, introduced Senate Bill 358, which he said is a “great way to reaffirm our oath of office.”
A substitute bill, introduced and approved by the committee Tuesday, removed the original bill’s criminal penalties law enforcement could face for enforcing federal gun laws.
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones, speaking during a public hearing on SB358, said the legislation could harm long-standing relationships between state and federal law enforcement agencies, which often work together on matters involving gun violence.
“I think that there is a possibility, maybe not directly, but indirectly, that this could endanger those relationships that really have helped us to make our streets safer in the state of Alabama,” Jones said.
Randy Hillman, counsel for the Alabama Sheriffs Association, noted that while the substitute bill removes criminal penalties for law enforcement, “the civil portion is still there.”
“That’s a big deal for us. What we’re trying to do is get guns off the street and get these bad guys off the street. Please don’t subject us to that,” Hillman said.
Dana Ellis, volunteer leader with the Alabama Chapter of Moms Demand Action, told the committee that Alabama has the second-highest rate of gun violence in the country.
“In the state with the second-highest rate of gun violence, we cannot do anything to weaken gun laws,” Ellis said.
The committee members asked no questions of those who spoke before voting to move the bill out of committee on a voice vote and on to the full House for consideration.
Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, introduced House Bill 405 and told the committee Tuesday that if a person has the legal right to own a firearm “you should be legally allowed to possess that firearm without getting a permission slip from the government.”
A substitute bill introduced by Rep. Proncey Robertson, R-Mt. Hope, addressed areas in Sorrell’s bill that might have impacted a recently approved bill, Senate Bill 308, which established lifetime concealed carry permits. That bill was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey earlier this month, Robertson said.
Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, asked if the bill would impact revenue generated by sheriffs’ offices, which charge fees to issue concealed carry permits.
Jones, the Lee County sheriff, said the bill “is going to have an effect on public safety” and that “I’m not speaking in theory. I’m speaking of actual practice.”
“I’ve seen it happen. I have documented evidence that shows that lives have been saved because we’ve had this law on the books,” Jones said. “I would hazard a guess that most folks would not want to interfere with the law that actually saves lives. I think it’s about victims.”
In some states that have adopted permitless carry laws — often called “constitutional carry” by proponents — the number of permits issued has dropped, which has impacted revenue for those sheriff’s offices and state governments, Jones said.
Hillman stressed the importance of the current concealed carry permitting process and the protection it affords law enforcement.
“A gun changes everything, especially in the middle of the night. Two o’clock in the morning. You’re standing out there by yourself. You don’t know what’s about to happen,” Hillman said. “The sheriff just told you there’s documented evidence that these pistol permits save lives. I promise you, that’s the case.”
Sonny Brasfield, director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said that he doesn’t believe it’s a bad thing that 28 percent of Alabamians have undergone a review by sheriff’s offices to buy a pistol permit.
“For those of you who have served as enforcement officers, I think you would understand,” Brasfield said.
Brasfield said Sorrell’s bill comes just weeks after Senate Bill 308’s passage, which was brought to the House floor by Rep. Robertson and created lifetime concealed carry permits, among other changes.
“After three years of enormously difficult work that legislation was brought to the floor by Representative Robinson, and except for one or two exceptions, law enforcement signed off on that piece of legislation, and it was passed,” Brasfield said. “Here we are, less than two weeks later, with a piece of legislation that quite honestly, goes against almost every agreement that was made.”
Gray made a motion to carry the bill over, which was seconded, but the motion failed on a voice vote. Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, a former chief of police, made a motion for a favorable report, and the committee voted to approve the substitute bill, sending it to the full House for consideration.
“You might as well call this the House Public Danger Committee, after the bills they advanced today,” said Rhonda Pendleton, a volunteer with the Alabama chapter of Moms Demand Action, in a statement after the committee adjourned. “And between ignoring law enforcement concerns about people carrying guns in public without a background check and trying to punish police for doing their jobs, these hypocritical lawmakers have gone back on their clearly empty promises to support law enforcement.”