The endless regurgitation of debates on the expansion or restriction of American’s access to firearms continue to permeate daily news cycles and conversation as yet more instances of the mass killings of innocent people — first in Buffalo, New York, then in Uvalde, Texas, and again in Tulsa, Oklahoma — continue to happen unimpeded across the country.
Reports suggest the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to release an opinion in the coming weeks on a New York law restricting access to concealed carry permits, with their decision likely to evolve the legal understanding of acceptable gun control policy established after the court’s District of Columbia v. Heller decision.
Individual states’ ability to enact meaningful legislative restrictions on the public possession of firearms is likely to be called into question after the conservative majority on the Supreme Court rules on the New York law. If the court strikes New York’s system down, which some observers believe is likely, it could strengthen the nationwide push to weaken gun laws.
In March, Alabama became the 22nd state to allow concealed carry without a permit or license, despite near-lockstep opposition from Democratic legislators in the Legislature. Law enforcement leaders, including the Alabama Sheriff’s Association, opposed the law, which will allow Alabamians to carry a concealed firearm on their person or in their vehicle sans permit. The new law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.
A second piece of pro-gun legislation, the Alabama Second Amendment Protection Act, passed in the same session as permitless concealed carry. The new law, set to get into effect July 1, would restrict local and state law enforcement from enforcing any presidential executive order that “limits or restricts the ownership, use, or possession of firearms, ammunition, or firearm accessories by law-abiding residents of the state,” according to the bill.
An earlier version of the bill would have mirrored a similar piece of legislation passed in Missouri in 2021, which instructed local and state police not to enforce federal laws related to firearms and prohibited them from working with federal law enforcement in enforcing federal gun crimes.
These pushes from state politicians to alter Alabama’s gun laws happened at a time when the most recent data on the state’s gun deaths spiked amid the pandemic. Alabama saw a total of 1,141 gun deaths in 2020, the majority of which were homicides. The state saw a 16 percent increase in gun homicides between 2019 and 2020, according to CDC data analyzed by Johns Hopkins University.
At a rate of 23.58 per 100,000 people, Alabama has the fifth-highest gun death rate in the country. Only Missouri, Wyoming, Louisiana, and Mississippi have higher gun death rates. Alabama has the third-highest gun homicide rate in the country, behind Mississippi and Louisiana.
Alabama currently has some of the most open laws related to firearms in the country. They range from the conventional, including the Castle Doctrine, which allows for self-defense in the home, and a state constitutional provision for the right to keep and maintain arms. But there are also obscure laws, like the Alabama code’s specific prohibition on carrying a “rifle or shotgun” walking cane.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a national gun control advocacy group based in New York, Alabama ranks 29th in the country for gun law strength.
According to the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action and the Code of Alabama, individuals do not need a permit to own or purchase a firearm and keep it in their home; do not need to register it upon purchase; and may open carry in most places, excluding certain “sensitive” locations like K-12 schools, courthouses, police stations, city hall chambers, state capitol grounds, at political protests, and on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives.
Until Jan. 1, 2023, Alabamians are required to possess a valid concealed carry permit to conceal a firearm on their person or in their vehicle. Short-barreled rifles and shotguns are banned outright, as well as the possession or sale of brass and steel Teflon coated pistol ammunition or any ammunition specifically designed to “penetrate bullet-proof vests.”
As required by federal law, those under the age of 18 are prohibited from purchasing a long rifle from a licensed gun dealer and must wait until the age of 21 to buy a handgun from a licensed gun dealer. However, Alabama does not mandate a minimum age for the private sale and purchase of firearms, and minors are allowed to possess firearms with permission from parents or guardians, when hunting or fishing with a valid license, as a member of the armed forces “acting in the line of duty,” or attending a firearms safety course.
Firearm and ammunition purchasing regulations in Alabama are equally wide-open. Per a federal mandate, licensed gun dealers are required to initiate a background check on an individual through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, but the state does not require anything more than potential handgun buyers presenting an ID to licensed handgun dealers before purchasing a pistol. In addition, there are no background checks required for private sales, like between two individuals or from non-licensed sellers at gun shows.
State previsions for the regulation of gun shows require organizers to determine if each firearms dealer is “licensed under the sales tax laws of this state” and require that the event last no more than seven days.
Those prohibited, through state or federal law, from purchasing or possessing a firearm or ammunition include individuals convicted of a felony; those convicted of a “crime of violence”; any person convicted of domestic violence or subject to a valid protection order for domestic abuse; an individual of “unsound mind,” as ruled by a board or court; and known drug abusers and so-called “drunkards,” according to the Code of Alabama.
Gun ownership in Alabama over the last several years has seen an increase, with an estimated 50 percent of Alabamians living in households with firearms, according to data compiled by the Rand Corporation.
An analysis by The Trace, a nonprofit newsroom that covers gun violence, shows that 41,511 firearms were sold by licensed dealers in Alabama during April 2022, an increase from the previous month, but a decrease compared to purchases in April of 2021. More than 588,000 guns were sold in 2021 alone. After mass casualty events, during times of civil unrest or protest, and often when Democrats are elected to federal office, gun purchases spike nationwide.
Between 2019 and 2020, gun deaths nationwide increased by 35 percent, totaling approximately 45,222 gun-related deaths, according to data from the CDC. Those deaths disproportionately affected the African-American community and occurred in states with fewer restrictions on gun laws, according to a 2020 study from John Hopkins University.
In 2021, gun deaths increased slightly from the previous year, with two-thirds of America’s major cities seeing more homicides than in previous years, according to The Trace.