Alabama, Ohio sheriffs associations on opposite sides of Constitutional Carry

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

The vast majority of sheriffs in Ohio are supporting Constitutional Carry, or at the very least, they’re not vocally opposing the legislation, which is now on its way to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk. In Alabama, on the other hand, where the state Senate approved an amended permitless carry bill on Thursday (minor changes, but it will still need to be re-approved by the House before going to the governor), sheriffs have been some of the loudest voices against permitless carry. To be sure, there are a few supporters like Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton, but the state sheriffs association has embraced Moms Demand Action-style rhetoric in their opposition to the measure.

It’s a different story in Ohio, however, where most sheriffs say they’re comfortable with the legislation’s intent and the state sheriffs association has given it a thumbs up.

Hardin County Sheriff Keith Everhart, the immediate past president of the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association, supports the legislation.

“The sheriffs’ association has been at the table ever since Day One of this bill, and we as an association — after a lot of discussion — have supported it,” Everhart said Wednesday.

The sheriff said the bill, if signed into law, will likely lead to a 40 to 60% drop in the number of concealed carry permits issued by county sheriffs.

“Would I love to see everyone go through a background check (to conceal carry a handgun)? Yeah, I probably would,” Everhart said. “But as a general rule, law enforcement is pro-Second Amendment, and I’m not going to go against that.”

Everhart stressed that the sheriff’s association fought for, and gained, inclusion in the bill of language that requires anyone stopped by law enforcement to immediately declare they are carrying a weapon if asked. He also stressed that the constitutional carry bill is valid only in Ohio and does not protect gun owners who travel to other states from legal liability there.

Just like in Alabama, county sheriff’s offices in Ohio get to keep a portion of concealed carry fees to use for things like purchasing ammunition, but the potential loss of revenue hasn’t led the state sheriff’s association to oppose permitless carry like their counterparts down south, where the anticipated financial hit is a major talking point for sheriffs and Democratic lawmakers.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, noted that sheriffs depend on permit fees to help fund their operations.

“The conservative party of Alabama, better known as Republicans, wants to defund the police,” Singleton said as the Senate began discussions today.

Sheriffs have not emphasized the loss of funding but have focused on what they say would be the public safety consequences of eliminating the permit requirement. They say it is an important tool for helping to prevent and solve crimes.

This morning, Singleton promised to talk as long as Senate rules allow to delay a vote on the bill. The Senate recessed shortly after Singleton spoke, returned shortly before 11:30 a.m., and resumed debate on the bill.

The Senate is discussing a new version of the bill that would provide some funding for sheriffs to offset the loss of pistol permit revenues.

Despite what Al.com reporter Mike Cason says about sheriffs not emphasizing the loss of funding, it’s not hard to find examples of sheriffs bringing up the issue.

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, [Mobile County Sheriff Sam] 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.

He said, “Let’s face it, over time, people won’t get a concealed carry permit if they don’t have too.”

The state’s sheriffs association hasn’t made the potential drop in revenue one of their primary talking points against the bill, but it’s still clearly a big concern for many sheriffs.

And to be fair, I do understand their concern. I just don’t believe that gun owners should have to pay the government in order to exercise a fundamental civil right, nor do I think that gun owners should be paying more than the rest of the general public to fund public safety.

If the state Senate can come up with a funding mechanism that alleviates the concerns of sheriffs, great. If not, and counties have to tap into the general fund to make up for any budgetary shortfall stemming from a decline in license applications, let them. But “we need the money” is a terrible reason to oppose Constitutional Carry, and I’m glad that, for the moment anyway, it looks like it’s not going to be a winning argument in the Alabama legislature.