MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Key legislators have agreed on sweeping changes to Alabama gun laws, but the deal still must clear one more hurdle before it can go to Gov. Robert Bentley for his signature.
The primary sponsors, Republican Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale and Democratic Sen. Roger Bedford of Russellville, hailed the agreement as a major step forward for gun owners' rights. Bedford and Beason, who don't typically land on the same side of any debate, joined forces to navigate a tense period of negotiations intended to satisfy the National Rifle Association, Alabama law enforcement leaders and the state chamber of commerce — all of them important groups for the Republican supermajority.
"This bill puts us light years ahead of where we are," Beason said. He's argued throughout the session that Alabama "was the least gun-friendly state in the South."
Under the plan, employees in Alabama would be able to have firearms in their car at work, and businesses couldn't be held liable for any harm resulting from the use of those weapons. Workers with long-barrel guns would have to have hunting licenses.
Beyond the parking lot at work, loaded weapons could be carried in cars by anyone with a concealed carry permit. A driver could carry an unloaded weapon, as long as it is out of reach, even without a permit.
Sheriffs would have to issue a written justification for denying a concealed weapons permit, and any denial could be appealed. Sheriffs now have complete discretion over requests for permits.
The legislation also clarifies that citizens can carry weapons openly in establishments that are open to the public unless the owners clearly post a weapons ban. Beason and other lawmakers said existing law is too confusing and has led to arrests of law-abiding citizens.
State law would still include a long list of public places, including most government buildings, where citizens could not carry concealed weapons.
A compromise committee of three senators and three representatives hammered out the final details Thursday evening after the House and Senate adopted competing versions. The Senate approved the deal 25-5 shortly thereafter. The House didn't get to a final vote, but will take it up when lawmakers reconvene May 20 for the session's final day.
The same bill must pass both chambers before any proposal can become law.
The civil immunity was a key victory for the Business Council of Alabama. But the organization, which was a key force in helping the GOP win control of the Legislature in 2010, nonetheless opposes the measure. BCA chief William Canary has said throughout the session that businesses should be able to set their own policies for employees. Like the backers of the bill who cite the Second Amendment, BCA also justifies its position with the Constitution: the Fifth Amendment's protection of private property.
Canary and other business lobbyists joined gun owners in the small committee room as the compromise panel signed the final deal.