By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
Local and state law enforcement officials are up in arms over a new state bill that could make sweeping changes to gun laws in the State of Alabama. After reading the proposed legislation — which has made it through committee and will be up for a vote soon — Cullman County Sheriff Mike Rainey and Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper believe it will make their jobs a lot tougher if it becomes law.
Dubbed Senate Bill 286, the proposed legislation would heavily loosen gun carry laws in the state and take away a sheriff’s authority to deny a concealed carry permit. It also extends the renew period from one to five years, meaning a permit-holder could go five years without having a new background check done.
“This would basically tie us down and keep us from being able to do our jobs properly,” Rainey said. “I’m the biggest proponent there is of the Second Amendment, but this is just too radical.”
The bill would require a sheriff to issue a concealed carry permit if the applicant passes a criminal background check. Currently, sheriffs have discretion to issue permits, and can deny them on the rare occasion that other issues exist (i.e. domestic issues, mental instability, suicidal tendencies). More than 99 percent of applications are already approved in the state of Alabama, and sheriffs currently deny less than 1 percent of all requests.
“This would take away the sheriff’s abilities to do his duty,” Rainey said. “Very little are ever denied, but when they are it’s for a good reason. Sometimes people may be able to pass a background check, but don’t need to carry a weapon.”
The bill would also make it legal for any gun owner to carry and store their weapon in a vehicle, regardless of if they have a concealed carry permit. It also takes away a private property owner’s right to deny guns on the premises in a vehicle, leaving a business owner with no recourse. The 30-page bill also makes several other tweaks and adjustments to state law, and would supersede any local gun ordinances that could be passed by city or county government.
One change Culpepper noted that could put law enforcement and regular citizens in harm’s way is the repeal of an existing state law that bans firearms at public protests, demonstrations and rallies.
“If you have two groups protesting a contentious issue that can get heated, under this law both sides could legally be armed at the event,” he said. “And who is in the middle of that? We, local law enforcement, are. They’re just trying to solve a problem that’s not there.”
Several statewide groups have already expressed opposition to the bill, including the Alabama Sheriffs' Association, the Association of Chiefs of Police and the District Attorneys Association. The Cullman city council also plans to draft a formal letter of disapproval to urge local lawmakers to vote against the measure.
Local legislators are still getting a grasp of the bill’s potential implications, though Rep. Mac Buttram, R-Cullman, said he will absolutely seek the input of local law enforcement.
“I’m with my sheriff and police chief on this,” he said.
Buttram went on to say the bill, which originated in the Senate, may partly be a reaction to efforts at the federal level to tighten gun control.
“I understand it takes away the sheriff's discretion with gun permits,” he said. “That's my overriding concern in this issue. It just came out of a Senate committee today and I'll watch it closely if it gets through to the House.”
When contacted by The Times on Thursday, State Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, said he is aware of the bill but had yet to review it.
“I will look at it closely because of what I do understand about the bill. One of my concerns is how this would affect businesses that have no-weapons policies,” he said. “We want to make sure that something doesn’t go through that negatively affects everyday life. It came out of a committee that I'm not a member of, so a lot of us have not had the opportunity to review it.”
Bussman said he recently spoke with Rainey about the bill and will take his opinion under advisement as he reviews the proposal.
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.