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March 7, 2014

CPD Chief, sheriff, candidates weigh in on gun bill

CULLMAN — Candidates for Cullman County Sheriff weighed in on a bill that would let people carry loaded pistols in their vehicles without a concealed carry permit.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill Wednesday by a 6-2 vote. Currently, people can keep a pistol in the car without a permit, but the weapon has to be unloaded, locked away and out of reach.

The Alabama Sheriffs’ Association opposed the bill at an earlier public hearing citing concern for public safety and the loss of permit fees to counties. Republican Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale, one of the bill’s sponsors, said he believes people should be able to keep a loaded weapon in their car, just as they can their house, without paying a fee.

The Alabama Sheriffs' Association, the Association of Chiefs of Police and the District Attorneys Association all opposed a draft of the 2013 gun law that would have made it legal for any gun owner to carry and store their weapon in a vehicle, regardless if they have a concealed carry permit.

Cullman County Sheriff Mike Rainey said he does not believe the bill would have any major effect on typical police procedure, or the crime rate in general.

“I personally don't know if it would have a lot of effect,” he said. “I think people who are going to break the law, is this going to make them break the law more or less? Probably not. Right now, my guys have to be cautious on every vehicle they stop out here, because they don't know what they're walking into in that situation, regardless.”

Rainey also noted the bill could affect revenue derived from pistol permits, which is a part of the county budget and helped partially fund the upcoming county shooting range.

Matt Gentry and Tim Creel, who are both running against incumbent Rainey in the June 3 Republican primary, had similar views on the proposed bill. Both said they didn’t foresee any major impacts on law enforcement officers.

“I don’t see it affecting deputy safety if they are following their training and proper procedures,” Creel said. “It’s the sheriff’s responsibility to make sure their deputies are current on their training in regards to the law and their safety.”

Creel added that he would like to see state legislation providing stronger punishments for those with prior violent felony or domestic violence convictions who are found in possession of a handgun.

Creel and Gentry said criminals would most likely not follow gun laws, with Creel pointing out that a criminal would not pass a background check of their criminal history to obtain a concealed carry pistol permit.

“I do not see that this bill creates a greater threat to our community than before,” Gentry said. “Most law-abiding citizens who carry guns get a concealed carry permit. I would like to see something where the gun has to be in plain view for the law enforcement officer, like in the case of a traffic stop.”

All three candidates said they are pro-Second Amendment.

Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper said he is concerned if the new proposal becomes law, people — who would otherwise have to pass a background check for criminal history and mental illness — could legally conceal loaded handguns in their vehicles. He said the bill would strip sheriffs of the ability to scrutinize those who can legally carry loaded handguns in their vehicles.

“I see the potential for it to create problems for law enforcement and the public,” Culpepper said.

He said the proposal could also make prosecutions difficult, for example, if a handgun is found in a vehicle that doesn’t belong to the driver or there’s multiple occupants.

“You’ve got the situation of “that’s not mine, it’s his,” Culpepper said.

Trent Moore contributed to this story.

Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at towens@cullmantimes.com or phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.

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