Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, championed Alabama’s sweeping gun legislation and rebuffed issues raised by one of the many police chiefs grappling with the new law’s enforcement at a public forum Tuesday.
Roughly two dozen business owners and residents came to the Open Carry seminar hosted by the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce to ask questions and learn more about the law that codifies a citizen’s right to openly carry firearms in unrestricted areas.
Henry spoke about why the law was drafted and how it was written while Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper detailed different scenarios where and how guns can be taken onto private property, including businesses and their parking lots. The new law took effect Aug. 1 and lays out guidelines of where citizens without pistol permits can openly carry guns in public and creates an appeal process for those denied pistol permits by county sheriffs.
Prior to the legislation, there was no state law banning citizens from openly carrying guns. But the new law invalidates local law enforcement’s authority to enact restrictions on gun possession. For example, the law strips sheriffs of the power to deny permits to someone who may have undocumented mental or emotional issues, or minors they believe are not mature enough to carry a weapon.
“The existing laws related to guns were confusing, and the goal was to clarify them and ensure a person’s right to carry a gun to protect themselves,” Henry said.
Unless business owners clearly post their no weapons policy, citizens can openly carry guns inside businesses, including those that serve alcohol. Openly carrying a weapon in public in itself should not warrant police suspicion; those openly carrying a gun are not subject to the misdemeanor of disorderly conduct.
While Culpepper and Henry were in agreement on many aspects of the law during the hour-long forum, Culpepper and Henry briefly contested the “clarity” of certain provisions, with Henry asking Culpepper and Cullman County Sheriff Mike Rainey, who attended, to “think outside the box” when dealing with those openly carrying guns.
Culpepper said before the law, police would stop and investigate someone found walking down the street with a gun. But now, officers are being told that they can’t approach a person unless they can “develop some other kind of reasonable suspicion other than he’s carrying a gun.”
In response, Henry recounted a time when he was stopped and frisked outside his car by police in the early morning hours in Huntsville after making a U-turn with a broken tag light.
“He had reasonable suspicions because of my actions and my attitude to check me out. We have not removed that,” Henry said of the law.
Replied Culpepper: “We appreciate your intent in writing it that way..... but it’s just not that easy, Ed.”
Under the law, unlicensed gun owners can legally carry a firearm in a vehicle as long as it is kept unloaded and concealed in a locked compartment out of reach from occupants. Culpepper said law enforcement has interpreted that to mean in that particular scenario, guns must be kept in a trunk and can not be carried on a motorcycle.
Rainey said his biggest concern is issuing pistol permits to individuals between the ages of 18 and 21. In the past, he required those in that age group to fill out a supplemental form, in addition to the regular application, signed by the applicant’s parent or guardian. He said he would also talk to the parent or guardian about the young adult and why he or she was seeking a permit.
“I’ve been inundated with youngsters coming in to get their permit,” Rainey said.
Henry said under the law, sheriffs are still authorized to deny permits to those they don’t want carrying concealed weapons.
“I’m going to stand my ground on this,” Rainey said of his process of screening young applicants. “They can get a judge to issue the permit if they want.”
Gwen Parker with People’s Bank attended the seminar and asked Henry and Culpepper what they would recommend to business owners who want to keep their employees safe. Parker said afterwards she was concerned about people carrying guns into the bank.
Culpepper advised her that the bank should post signs that say weapons are forbidden on the premises. But Henry said some businesses that have done that have become targets for boycotts by those who want to openly carry their guns inside.
“People with concealed carry permits could do it before this law,” Henry said. “I believe a majority of Alabamians are law-abiding citizens, and this protects their rights.”
Under the new law, firearms are prohibited in the following places:
City council and county commission chamber buildings
School athletics events
Premises with guards, electronic scanning, turnstiles or physical barriers
Tiffeny Owens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131, ext. 135.