Gun bill talks over?

Published 1:29 pm Saturday, April 27, 2013

A compromise gun bill agreed upon by Alabama sheriffs and the NRA is “good for everyone,” Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith said following a public hearing Thursday in the Legislature on the issue.

A revised bill still must pass both houses, but it would likely preserve a sheriff’s right to deny a gun permit if the sheriff has a public safety concern about an individual.

Still, the Business Council of Alabama maintains opposition to the compromise because the bill would likely allow individuals with or without concealed carry permits to keep guns in their vehicles while at work.

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Smith, who has represented the Alabama Sheriff’s Association’s charge against the original bill that would allow for less-stringent restrictions on where a firearm can be carried and would allow those without concealed carry permits to transport guns in their vehicles, said the compromise allows those involved in the debate to meet in the middle.

“We all had the same goal,” Smith said Thursday following the House committee hearing. “To protect Second Amendment rights of citizens and still protect everyone’s safety. Trying to balance those two things is a difficult task. The House has been very helpful in trying to accomplish that. In the end, the NRA agreed with everything we are asking for and we agreed with them. We came out with something that I think is good for everyone.”

What specifically came out of the hearing, Smith said, is a bill that would allow for those not possessing a concealed carry permit to transport a firearm inside their vehicle, provided the gun is unloaded and out of reach of anyone traveling in the automobile. The bill would also restrict employers from prohibiting employees from keeping a firearm in a private, locked vehicle while on the business property. In addition, the bill will allow for extended concealed carry permits, which now last for one year, for up to five years and would require a sheriff denying a permit to give an explanation for the decision in writing and allow the citizen a chance to appeal the denial.

Smith said that portion of the bill is something the ASA has always endorsed. Smith said with around only 1 percent of permits applied for being denied, he sees no problem with providing a written explanation as to why the decision was made.

“That’s something that we agreed to and felt like every sheriff should do from the outset,” Smith said. “This is legislation that holds a sheriff accountable. A permit is issued unless they have a valid public safety concern and then they should have to put that in writing and a person has a chance to appeal that decision. If a person doesn’t want to hire an attorney they can go to district court and it will be handled like a small claims case.”

Smith said, while some allowances were made on the part of the ASA, the NRA also gave up elements of the bill crafted by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale.
“What Sen. Beason wanted was for people to be able to carry a gun around regardless, without a real screening process. We could not accept that because if you had a block party, everyone could come in armed.”

Despite the compromise, officials representing state business interests said allowing employees to keep guns in their vehicles poses unnecessary safety risks.

“While we should be focused on creating jobs, we instead continue to focus on this unnecessary legislation that does nothing more than find a solution for a problem that does not exist,” said Business Council of Alabama CEO William Canary. “As we have stated before, three conditions were presented in order for the BCA to support this legislation: absolute immunity from civil liability; equal application to everyone in Alabama; and an opt-out provision—two of these three have been accomplished.”

While employers will receive immunity from workplace violence that involves firearms legally present due to the bill’s passage, it does not provide an opt-out provision.

“We maintain that the truth is that all amendments to the constitution are applied equally, with none having precedence over another,” Canary said. “The fifth amendment rights of property owners are equally as important as the second amendment right to bear arms.”

Smith agreed the bill is not a total win for any involved.

“I don’t think anybody got everything they wanted,” he said. “But we do what we always do. There’s a balancing act between personal safety and liberties and we found a compromise.”