Alabama sheriff bucks state association, backs Constitutional Carry

(AP Photo/AJ Mast, File)

Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry may be a member of the Alabama Sheriffs’ Association, but that doesn’t mean he agrees with the organization’s tone-deaf stance in opposition to Constitutional Carry or its’ chief executive’s willingness to work with gun control groups to defeat the measure in the state legislature this year.

In fact, Gentry went on the record on Wednesday in support of the permitless carry bill authored by state Rep. Shane Stringer; one of several residents who showed up to back the bill in a public hearing before the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

Although sheriffs and police have spoken out against Stringer’s bill, Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry spoke in support of it today. Gentry noted that Alabama law allows people to openly carry handguns as long as they are not in their vehicles and allows them to carry loaded rifles, including in their vehicles.

“What we’re talking about today is the ability of law abiding citizens to protect themselves,” Gentry said.

Not according to opponents of the bill, who maintain that allowing Alabamians to carry concealed without a permit (open carry without a license is already allowed under Alabama law) will only add to the state’s violent crime.

Law enforcement officials have been pushing just as hard against the measure, citing an increase in gun violence around the state and arguing that getting rid of concealed carry permits could take a useful tool from law enforcement that can lead to arrests of individuals accused of committing major crimes. Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham said after the meeting he was concerned the bill would make it easier for young people to get access to firearms.

“It ain’t about just carrying a gun,” he said. “It’s about us thinking that the rationale of allowing (guns) to young people that haven’t even fully developed, still have a lot of aggression, and are always wanting to get even.”

I understand and share Cunningham’s concern about juveniles getting and using guns, but let’s be honest here, even in places with extremely restrictive gun control laws like New York City, a teen who’s willing to break the law to get a gun can easily do so. And there’s nothing about the Constitutional Carry language in Alabama that would lower the age to lawfully carry a firearm or allow a juvenile to legally do so, despite Cunningham’s claims.

21 states have now approved Constitutional Carry language, so it’s not like Alabama is striking out into the great unknown here. Not one of those states has gone back and repealed its permitless carry statute, which suggests that the laws are working out. In fact, even in states that are trending in a more Democrat-friendly direction like Arizona, Democrats have been loathe to push for a return to a “shall issue” or “may issue” permitting system. I don’t think it’s because they’ve suddenly fallen in love with the law, but they know that there’s no real groundswell of opposition demanding repeal and a return to a licensing-only system.

Reporter Bryan Lyman of the Montgomery Advertiser says Republican lawmakers at the state capitol are “touching the bills with a five-foot pole”; not ready to formally oppose the measure but not quite willing to sign on, at least without first trying to amend the legislation. In the House, that could come next week, when the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. On the Senate side, a Constitutional Carry bill has made it to the floor, but has yet to be scheduled for a vote and could also be amended in the process.

For the moment, anyway, supporters of Constitutional Carry have the momentum in Alabama. Whether or not these bills will still be worth supporting after the attempt to amend them, however, is very much an open question. Now would be a very good time for 2A activists in Alabama to contact their lawmakers and urge them to support a clean Constitutional Carry bill instead of one that’s loaded down with poison pill amendments.