Alabama sheriffs pan Constitutional Carry before key legislative hearing

AP Photo/David Goldman

If Alabama becomes the 22nd state to adopt Constitutional Carry provisions, it will be over the heated objections of the state sheriffs’ association, which is continuing to lobby lawmakers to oppose the measure recognizing the right of legal gun owners to bear arms without a government permission slip.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on the bill today, and in advance of the public session the Alabama Sheriffs Association held a news conference on the steps of the statehouse laying out some of their issues with the bill.

The sheriffs say public safety is their top concern and that includes the safety of law enforcement because removing the requirement to get a permit would make it even easier to get a gun without registering it.

“Then they’d just be able to carry whenever they want. No one can stop them, no one can question them, and it’s just a bad deal all the way around. If we don’t know about it, we don’t know how to protect other people,” said Baldwin County deputy Curtis Summerlin.

I have to point out that, contrary to the claiming of the local news reporter, there is no gun registration requirement in Alabama. As for Deputy Summerlin’s argument, there’s nothing stopping anyone from illegally carrying a firearm right now. What’s more, open carry without a license is already the law in Alabama. The Constitutional Carry measure would simply allow legal gun owners to choose which method they prefer; either concealed or open carry.

While the sheriffs were on the statehouse steps stumping for the bill’s defeat, the primary sponsor of Constitutional Carry in the state House took to the pages of the state’s biggest news site to provide another perspective. Rep. Shane Stringer, a former Mobile County sheriffs captain who was fired from his job after introducing a permitless carry bill last year, was joined by Dr. John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center in explaining why Constitutional Carry would be a good thing for the state.

The most significant change from constitutional carry is how quickly people can carry a gun if needed. Right now, it takes about a month for Alabama to issue a concealed handgun permit after someone has met the requirements. If a woman is being stalked or threatened, the harm from that threat may have already occurred well before a month is up. To make matters worse, during the coronavirus outbreak getting permits was delayed up to three months.

Under Constitutional carry, that woman won’t have to wait for a license.

And Constitutional carry will save Alabamians the cost of obtaining a license, which runs $100 for five years. These costs matter; just compare the numbers in neighboring states, Illinois and Indiana. In Illinois, the total cost of getting a five-year permit is $450; there is no license fee in Indiana. While only 4% of Illinoisans have a concealed handgun permit, 22% of adults in Indiana already have one, the second-highest number of permits per capita.

More importantly, the people who benefit the most from carrying are the most likely victims of violent crime, overwhelmingly poor blacks who live in high-crime urban areas. They are also the most sensitive to the fees required to get a permit. In Illinois, wealthy white males who live in the suburbs are overwhelmingly the ones who get permits. In Indiana, people living in urban, heavily minority zip codes get many more permits.

All of that is true, though I would note that Indiana only removed its licensing fees last year. Still, when they did the response was overwhelming, with more than 25,000 applicants in just the first week after the fees went away.

And while Stringer and Lott’s op-ed doesn’t dive too deeply into that aspect of the fight over permitless carry in Alabama, sheriffs get a decent chunk of change from the license fees, which I believe is one of the big reasons driving the opposition of the ASA. I can understand the concern about potentially losing a million dollars or more from your budget, but honestly, the answer is for the legislature or counties to come up with another funding mechanism that doesn’t involve paying for a permission slip to exercise a constitutionally-protected right.

Rep. Stringer was confident before the session began that there was enough support in the legislature to make Constitutional Carry a reality. I certainly hope that’s the case, but I’d say the outcome is far from assured at the moment, and I hope Alabama gun owners are letting their representative and senator know where they stand.