The Alabama House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee held a public hearing on a bill that would repeal the state’s law requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Repealing the need for those permits, which require background checks, would put law enforcement officers’ lives at greater risk, most of law enforcement’s opponents of the bill said. Supporters of the legislation said Alabama lags behind the 22 other states with such laws, and alleged that passages of them didn’t result in increased crime.
House Bill 272, sponsored by state Rep. Shane Stringer, R-Citronelle, would do away with the legal requirement for a person to have a concealed carry permit in Alabama, which is referred to as permitless carry or constitutional carry.
Leeds Police Department chief Paul Irwin told committee members the state’s concealed carry permit helps get illegal guns off the streets.
“I’ve seen a lot of weapons that we recovered because a person did not have a permit, and we were able to take that person into custody for violating this law,” Irwin said. “And whenever we took that person into custody those weapons got checked. They got ran through the ATF.”
Some of those guns were found to have been used in crimes, Irwin said, and doing away with the need for permits would mean more of those guns would remain on the streets.
“If we don’t have a pistol permit they can just go around and carry those guns wherever they want to,” Irwin said.
Eddie Fulmer, president of BamaCarry, a group that supports the bill, explained he believes it’s a matter of freedom.
“Gentlemen. Are we so low that we must ask permission to exercise the right of self defense given by God alone, and protected by founding documents?,” Fulmer said.
Dr. Donald Reiff, professor of surgery at University of Alabama and the chief medical officer for the surgical service line at UAB, the only level 1 trauma center in Alabama, said repealing the permits will increase gun injuries.
“We had probably close to 4,000 trauma activations and admissions four years ago,” Reiff said of UAB. “This past year we are the second or third busiest trauma center in the country, with 6,000 admissions.”
“The introduction of more weapons and the potential for this less monitored approach introduces the opportunity for more penetrating injuries to our communities,” Reiff said.
Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissioners of Alabama, said that the bill now puts the focus directly on the safety of law enforcement. He noted changes to the legislation that addressed concerns from other groups.
“Education is against this bill so we make changes in the bill and no one from education is here to oppose it. Business is against the bill so we make changes. There’s no one from business here to oppose it,” Brasfield said. “Property rights advocates are against the bill so we make changes. There’s no one left Except law enforcement.”
“Normally, I would say that that concerns me as an opponent of this bill, but this morning it doesn’t because eliminating all of those other groups puts this issue clearly in focus,” Brasfiled continued.
Brasfield said the bill “authorizes without a permit every adult driver to have a loaded handgun in their reach or in their hands.”
Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry said he supports the bill because it’s legal in Alabama to carry a loaded AR-15 anywhere without a permit.
“So we’re really talking about two things. We’re talking about concealed carry. If I put a coat on and cover it up, or if I put it in my vehicle, that’s loaded,” Gentry said.
“Obviously, if you’re approaching somebody on the street it’s very difficult to conceal an AR 15,” said Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa. “But it’s not difficult to conceal a pistol.”
The permit requirement also allows an officer to ask about a pistol displayed in someone’s vehicle, and doing away with those permits takes that opportunity away, save for very basic questions about the gun, England explained.
HB272 is to come back up in the committee next week for further discussion.