Smith: Gun bills a problem

Published 7:45 pm Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A series of bills regarding gun control are a “knee-jerk” reaction to debate over the issue, said Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith, who has been making the rounds to lobby against many of the measures pending in the Alabama Legislature.

Smith told Atmore City Council members Monday that he is concerned the bills will remove “any discretion at all to protect gun rights that aren’t being violated.”

“I’ve never been more afraid of any legislation this much in my life,” Smith said.

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Smith said the proposed legislation could allow for the drastic loosening of current state gun laws, including allowing weapons to be carried unconcealed in holsters; weapons to be carried at public assemblies, inside businesses and churches; and weapons to be carried by teachers or administration on school campuses.

Senate Bill 129, proposed by Scott Beason, would “provide that lawfully carrying a firearm under certain conditions does not, in and of itself, constitute the crime of disorderly conduct.”

The bill goes on to read that it would alter current rules for Alabama sheriffs issuing licenses to carry permits, including a clause that would allow a non-U.S. citizen to carry a weapon “under limited circumstances.” The bill also addresses “pre-emption language regarding the authority of counties and municipalities to regulate certain activity related to firearms and would provide civil remedies for persons adversely affected by unauthorized action of a county or municipality relating to firearm regulation.”

Smith said the message is that citizens would be allowed to carry guns in a variety of new venues and without concealing the weapons. Smith went on to add the bill would make enforcing harassment laws much harder as it would strengthen the ability for possible offenders to obtain guns, while simultaneously reducing law enforcement’s ability to deny permits when needed, as well as their ability to charge people for gun related crimes.

“If you own a business, people would be able to walk into your business with a gun on their hip,” Smith said. “If you wanted them to put it away, you would have to verbally ask them to take it back to their cars. And you would not be allowed to post a sign to that effect on your own business, so if the same person walked in with a gun everyday, you would have to ask them to take it out everyday. Not everyone’s going to want to do that, so you’re going to either make customers mad, or let your other customers be uncomfortable.”

State Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, said he has not completely familiarized himself with Senate Bill 129, but Keahey said some of the language could change should it be merged with a piece of legislation he is co-sponsoring with Sen. Roger H. Bedford.

“Initially, there were two bills and over the past two weeks there has been an effort to combine the two into one piece of legislation,” Keahey said. “The one bill that (Sen.) Scott Beason is carrying (SB 129), I haven’t seen or been a part of the discussion and I don’t know what, if any, changes it would make to it.”

Keahey said, while he is not sponsoring SB 129, the bill he is co-sponsoring would allow a bit more leniency for gun owners.

“It would prohibit a company or plant or mill from adopting a policy that would not permit employees from having guns in their cars, in the parking lot, out of sight and locked away,” he said. “I’ve always been in support of that legislation, but the other bill, that is to my understanding what the sheriff is so passionate about, I plan to get more involved with this week.”

Smith also blasted language in House Bills 53, 55 and 129.

“There’s been a strong reaction by the lobbyists for this,” Smith said. “It’s about one thing — money. And those who do oppose this legislation are scared to stand up and speak out. I strongly support the second amendment, but we have to use our God-given common sense.”

Smith said the passing of any or all of the legislation would do nothing but put more guns on the streets and Alabama citizens in greater jeopardy.

“I took an oath to the state and the federal government,” he said. “But I can promise you I will never be out here taking guns away from law-abiding citizens. I would resign first. We know that’s not going to happen. All of this is a knee-jerk reaction to the Southern attitude about guns.”

State Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, said citizens should be aware that gun legislation is presented during every session, and does not necessarily mean the bills will be given any serious consideration.

“I’m not on any of these committees, but I would want to retain our current gun laws,” Baker said. “I understand (Smith’s) concerns. They have been expressed. They are valid concerns. We have gun control and gun rights bills every year, but many of them never see the light of day.”

Monday, Smith urged residents to call on their local legislators to stand up against the bills, should any of them make their way to their desks.

“We don’t need this,” he said. “Please help us stop it. These bills benefit no one but the gun lobby. Please help me, because terrorists don’t scare me, but right now our Legislature scares me.”