By Tiffeny Owens
The Cullman Times
In the wake of new legislation clarifying Alabama’s open carry gun laws, Wallace State Community College is reiterating its policy of prohibiting firearms on campus.
Wallace State joins universities across the state that are standing by their no weapons policy as the new law takes effect this month that says a person legally permitted to possess a pistol can openly carry the weapon in public.
“Chancellor Mark Heinrich has issued a directive requiring that Alabama’s community colleges continue to abide by State Board of Education Policy 511.01: Firearms on Campus, which prohibits firearms on campus or on any other facility operated by our college,” Wallace State President Dr. Vicki Hawsey Karolewics said in a prepared statement. “We will abide by the stated policies of the Alabama State Board of Education as we continue to take every measure to assure a safe learning and work environment for our students and our employees.”
Karolewics said the only exception to the weapons ban is firearms carried by duly authorized law enforcement officers and where required as equipment for an instructional program.
Wallace State Police Chief Tyler Roden and Hanceville Police Chief Bob Long said there have been no related incidents since the law went into effect.
Citizens without pistol permits can openly carry guns in unrestricted areas but must have permission from property owners before they take their guns on private property. They can also carry guns in their vehicles as long as it is unloaded and kept in a secure place out of reach from any occupants.
Business owners who don’t want guns on their property can post their no weapons policy which is what many local shops and schools have done.
But some gun owners are ignoring posted weapon bans and bringing their firearms anyway. On Tuesday, a Florence man concealed a handgun in his waistband and went to Hibbett Middle School to eat lunch with his son. The Times Daily reported Florence police charged Derrin Gunear Sanders, 39, with public intoxication, carrying a pistol without a permit and third-degree criminal trespassing, all misdemeanors, after the incident.
The Times Daily reported that police said several signs are posted at the school warning visitors no weapons are allowed, and that Sanders, even though he does not have a permit allowing him to carry a concealed gun, argued that the new gun law allowed him to carry a weapon in public.
Earlier this week, the University of Alabama released its updated policy of forbidding weapons on campus in response to the legislation. The rule strictly bans guns and any other weapons on campus, which the policy defines as all property owned, leased or controlled by the university and any affiliated foundation or health care entity, including buildings, parking lots and other outdoor property. Per the policy, it applies to all persons on campus, including faculty, staff, students, contractors, patients, and visitors. Additionally, any weapons carried on campus may be confiscated.
But ambiguity remains. One section of the new law allows those with a concealed carry permit to carry weapons to athletic events. But in another section, property owners can ban firearms in places that institute guards and other security measures to regulate access.
State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, who was one of the architects of the law, said he believed the conflict between the legislation and schools’ authority to enact policies banning weapons will be decided by the courts.
“Even a policy is not going to supersede state law,” Henry said during the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce’s Open Carry seminar Tuesday. “It’s (college weapons bans) most likely going to be overturned.... We’ll see. I don’t really care which way it goes. Alabama state law also says you can go on to school property with a concealed carry permit so long as you don’t intend to do harm. It really comes back to an individual that’s going to hurt somebody. They don’t really care what the law is. They’re going to do harm regardless if we tell them how, when and where they can carry their weapon.”
Tiffeny Owens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131, ext. 135.