Sheriff Worried Constitutional Carry Will Lead To Less Cash For His Office

BILL STARLING

To me, this is far more of an argument in favor of getting rid of all government-imposed fees on the exercise of a constitutionally protected right, but Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran apparently believes that funding his office off the hard-earned money of gun owners who want to lawfully carry a firearm for self-defense is hunky dory. In fact, Cochran sounds far more concerned about losing concealed carry application fee money than he does about any of his constituents being priced out of a right.

The annual permits raise around $1.2 million each year for the Mobile County Sheriff’s Department and the money is used to purchase equipment and upgrade technology for deputies, Cochran said. The extra money has also been used to start up new anti-crime initiatives, such as a drug testing program at Mobile County Public Schools.

Cochran said the revenue also allows his department to avoid going before the county commission and requesting more tax money to support his agency.

Now, those may be valuable and worthwhile programs, but why should they be funded off of charging a fee to exercise your right to bear arms? It seems to me the general public benefits from those programs, so why shouldn’t Cochran ask that the general public bear the cost?

This debate, which took place at this week’s Mobile County Commission meeting, is likely to be a preview of the intense legislative debate over Constitutional Carry in the state legislature next year. In fact, Rep. Scott Stringer, who was the primary sponsor of this year’s permitless carry bill, was in attendance at the meeting as well to urge commissioners to reject a resolution objecting to Constitutional Carry; a resolution supported by Sheriff Cochran, who not coincidentally, is Stringer’s former boss.

Yep, Stringer was fired by Cochrane after he introduced Constitutional Carry legislation earlier this year, and the Republican representative says his dismissal has only increased interest in his bill.

“I think we have the momentum,” said Stringer, R-Citronelle, who was employed under Cochran until May when he was removed from his role as Captain because the two have different views over the matter.

“With the sheriff terminating me over this issue, it has drawn a lot of attention to it,” Stringer said. “In reaction, a lot of legislators have done their homework and reached out to sheriffs in other states to see how detrimental this was, if any. What they have learned is … nothing major has happened.”

Said Cochran, also a Republican, “He was a political appointee of mine. I expect that we can disagree in a staff meeting but once we go forward, it’s the philosophy of the Sheriff going forward and is not about undermining it.”

You know, Sam Cochran was elected sheriff of Mobile County, not dictator. I have a hard time with his logic here: is a sheriff’s employee who serves as an elected official in their own right not allowed to disagree with the sheriff? Not allowed to have a different point of view or political party?

While Stringer broke with the sheriff over the permitless carry bill, another former deputy is strongly on Cochran’s (and the gun control lobby’s) side.

Mobile County Commissioner Randall Dueitt, a Republican who also worked under Cochran for 23 years until he was elected to the commission in 2020, also disputes the term.

“This has nothing to do with constitutional rights,” Dueitt said. “The NRA put a marketing name on it and called it constitutional carry. That’s like putting lipstick on a pig and calling it a princess. I will tell you this, it has nothing to do with the Constitution. Concealed carry is considered a privilege and not a right under the Constitution.”

It is? I must have a different copy that Dueitt, because mine doesn’t mention anything about the method of carrying, only that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Also, the NRA didn’t come up with the phrase Constitutional Carry. In fact, the Constitutional Carry movement was really started by state-level groups and was more picked up by the NRA than established by it.

You can call it Constitutional Carry, Vermont Carry, permitless carry… it really doesn’t matter. What we’re talking about is being able to both keep and bear arms without a government permission slip. That’s not putting lipstick on a pig. It’s putting teeth in the Bill of Rights.

Not that Dueitt or Cochran really care about the history of the movement. Their only interest? Stopping it.

Cochran believes the issue has been spun by gun rights advocates to do away with permits.

“The right to bear arms is a Second Amendment right but it’s not an unlimited right,” he said, referring to the 2008 case that invalidated a past handgun ban in Washington, D.C., but also allowed guns to be regulated. “Constitutional carry is a made-up term that catches people’s (attention).”

He added, “The freedom of religion doesn’t give you the right to human sacrifice. The First Amendment doesn’t give you the right to scream ‘Fire!’ into a crowded theater.”

You know, the Twenty First Amendment doesn’t give deputies the right to drink a beer in their patrol car, but apparently Cochran doesn’t view that as a crime or even worthy of a firing. Five days suspension, twenty hours of alcohol counseling, and you can start with a clean slate. Heck, you can be caught buying drugs by your fellow deputies in Mobile County and manage to avoid being taken into custody or even arrested for nearly two months, though at least you will be fired… just like if you introduce a Constitutional Carry (or permitless carry, if Cochran prefers that term) bill that the sheriff disagrees with.

Alabama sheriffs have a long and unfortunate history of interposing themselves between the citizenry and their civil rights, and it really is a shame to see Cochran choose to side with enforcing a misdemeanor law that no violent criminal is obeying anyway instead of standing up for the right of the people to keep and bear arms without infringement. I do understand the financial hit that his office will take, but legislators can and should address those concerns separately. Again, gun owners shouldn’t be singled out to help fund the sheriff’s office any more than someone exercising their freedom to worship (albeit without human sacrifice). That’s a separate issue from Constitutional Carry altogether, or at least it should be.

Look, I don’t think anyone is saying that Constitutional Carry will lead to a crime-free utopia. Will there be people carrying guns who shouldn’t? Yes, just like there are people carrying guns today who shouldn’t. And since Constitutional Carry only recognizes the right of legal gun owners to lawfully carry, criminal charges are still applicable to those underage or prohibited by law from carrying.

What about those people who don’t have a criminal record but who might be carrying a gun to commit a crime? Besides the fact that we don’t generally arrest people for something we think they might do in the future (unless we have specific evidence that they are planning a criminal activity, which is in itself a crime), we’re talking turning a fundamental right into a misdemeanor offense. Not that I’m actually calling for this, mind you, but it seems to me if you really want to prevent criminals from carrying guns around you’d make it a felony to do so. But there’s absolutely no political appetite for that; most Republicans would (rightfully) be opposed on Second Amendment grounds and most Democrats would be (rightfully) opposed because they know that a disproportionate number of young black men would bear the brunt of the law’s enforcement.

So instead you have the sheriff arguing for the retention of a misdemeanor offense that, frankly, is likely to be used as plea bargain bait that will keep violent offenders out of lengthy prison stays at least as often as it’s used to put non-violent offenders behind bars for a few months. Even leaving aside the constitutional concerns, that just doesn’t make much sense to me.

Twenty one states have adopted Constitutional Carry laws already, and we’re likely to see several more next year. Whether or not Alabama will be one of them remains to be seen. And with Sheriff Sam Cochran’s term set to expire in 2022, whether or not he’s re-elected next November after parroting the talking points of the gun control lobby is another very open question.