Constitutional Carry resolution foreshadows legislative fight in Alabama

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Commissioners in Mobile County, Alabama won’t be voting on a proposed resolution demanding the state legislature reject a Constitutional Carry bill until next week, but it looks like the local sheriff has managed to round up enough votes to ensure the resolution passes.

Sheriff Sam Cochran has been on an anti-Constitutional Carry tear for months now, ever since Rep. Shane Stringer proposed the measure at the start of the 2021 legislative session. Stringer, who was serving in the Mobile County Sheriffs Department as a captain, was fired by Cochran over his support for permitless carry, and the sheriff has continued to vocally chastise and criticize proponents of the measure in the months since.

According to Rep. Andrew Sorrell, Stringer’s colleague in the legislature and the chief sponsor of a competing Constitutional Carry bill, Cochran’s opposition has actually done more to fire up supporters of the idea than increase the opposition.

Sorrell told he would be supportive of Stringer’s HB6 if it was given consideration over his proposal. Sorrell said he sympathized with his fellow colleague who described as having “bled for the cause” by losing his job with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office. Sorrell said that Stringer was basically “punished for his political beliefs.”

“When Sam Cochran fired Shane Stringer, it was the best thing to happen for constitutional carry,” said Sorrell, who has previously attempted to get the provision passed through the Alabama House but has run into roadblocks among his fellow Republicans aligned to the county sheriffs who are a powerful group in Montgomery where the Legislature is a supermajority GOP.

Said Sorrell, “Everyone liked Shane Stringer. And whether you disagreed with them or not on the bill, you don’t fire someone. Shane Stringer as a good officer. That ticked off everyone at the Alabama State House.”

Cochran has repeatedly defending Stringer’s firing, arguing that he was hired to fill a politically appointed position and it was within his rights to dismiss the law enforcement officer over philosophical differences. And while the firing may have ticked off House members, as reports, Cochran and his fellow county sheriffs are a powerful political bloc of their own, and while not all of them are opposed to Constitutional Carry, as a group they’re likely to pose the biggest challenge in getting a Constitutional Carry bill turned into law.

Sorrell and Stringer say they believe the issue boils down to revenue coming to the Sheriff’s Department from the annual permits, around $1.2 million each year for the Mobile County Sheriff’s Department. The money is used to purchase equipment and upgrade technology for deputies, or to start up new anti-crime initiatives such as drug testing programs at Mobile County Public Schools.

The two lawmakers believe that Cochran is overinflating the impact of the revenue hit, with Sorrell saying that county commissions “are afraid if there is a drop in pistol permit revenues, they will have to pick up the tab and they don’t want to pick up the tab. My guess is it’s about the money for these commissioners.”

One Republican commissioner in Mobile County (who also happened to serve under Cochran in the sheriffs department) calls that idea “baloney,” but I think it’s actually a valid point. If the sheriff’s department does end up losing revenue from licensing fees, it stands to reason that they’re going to want to replace that money somehow, and it will be up to the county commissioners to make those budgetary decisions.

Still, there’s no real reason why gun owners should be singled out to help pay for technology upgrades or drug testing in public schools. If these are valuable public safety measures, then the general public should be the ones paying for them, not merely those exercising their right to bear arms.

We’ll see what happens on the 28th, but as of right now it looks like the sheriff is going to get his way on the Constitutional Carry resolution in Mobile County. That doesn’t spell doom for the legislation when lawmakers return to Montgomery next month, but it does indicate that the pathway to permitless carry is going to be rockier than what you might expect in a state with a Republican supermajority in the statehouse.