I have been involved in attempts to update Alabama’s gun laws over the past three legislative sessions. After studying our existing gun laws it became clear that our current laws were unnecessarily placing law abiding citizens in conflict with law enforcement. We were successful in making some changes this year.
My principal concern has been with de-conflicting current laws on the books. It seems that some laws were changed or updated over the years with little regard to how a change might affect other sections of the law. For example, there were problems with both open carry and concealed carry conflicting with other areas of Alabama’s code. One section of the code prevents someone from carrying a firearm on property not their own – and thus could be applied to open or concealed carry. Another section prevents someone from carrying a firearm in a vehicle unless they possessed a concealed to carry permit. So, while you were legal to openly have a pistol in a holster on your hip on your property – you became illegal when you walked off of your property or drove your car off your property. I’ve not been contacted by anyone that was charged with this in the Senate District that I represent, but there have been instances where people openly carrying a pistol on property not their own - merely in the general public, were arrested and charged under a catch all “disorderly conduct”.
We corrected some of these conflicts through passage of SB286 during the 2013 session. Some people would’ve preferred we make more changes to the current laws but in the end I feel that we accomplished a great deal and want to thank the many stakeholders who worked very hard to make this legislation better. As with all legislation, the goal was to make as many positive changes as we could get support for in both the House and Senate, and that the Governor would then sign. I’ve attached a copy here and reference page/line numbers throughout the discussion below. Please note; changes to the law go into effect on August 1st of this year.
There were several areas we addressed in the new law that I’ve highlighted below. Feel free to contact me should you have questions or contact your local Sheriff or Police Department.
Shall vs. May Concealed to Carry Permit Issue (Page 8, Line 11) – Alabama’s Sheriff’s are granted the authority under Alabama law to issue persons a concealed to carry permit to carry a pistol in a vehicle or concealed on their person. As a wide range of people read my blog and newsletter – some gun enthusiasts, some not; it bears to state that you don’t have to have a permit to purchase/own a pistol. The permit simply allows a person to carry the pistol concealed on their person. The county in which a person lives is the county in which a person must apply to the sheriff for a permit. This can get confusing: i.e., a resident of Madison City would apply in Madison County if living in the Madison County side of Madison but would apply in Limestone County if living in the Limestone County side of Madison City.
While I’ve not been contacted by anyone that has been denied a permit, a sheriff could deny a permit as Alabama was a “may” issue state. This meant that even though someone didn’t have a legal reason to not have been issued a concealed to carry permit, the sheriff could choose not to issue them one. There are documented cases of this occurring in other parts of the state.
The new law moves Alabama into what we have referred to as a “hybrid shall/may”. Under the new law a sheriff must make a determination within 30 days of a person applying for a permit. The sheriff may deny someone a concealed to carry permit if the sheriff determines that the person is prohibited from the possession of a pistol or firearm pursuant to state or federal law. However, the sheriff may also deny someone a concealed to carry permit even though the background check is clear if the sheriff has a reasonable suspicion that the person may use a weapon unlawfully or in such other manner that would endanger the person's self or others. If doing so, the sheriff must state the reason in writing to the person applying. The person denied a permit can appeal the sheriff’s decision within 30 days to the County District Court and the court shall issue a determination within 30 days of receipt of the appeal.
Parking Lot Law (Page 17, Line 23) – Previously a business owner could declare through their employment hiring policy that an employee could not have a weapon in their car parked in the business’ parking lot. During debate I referred to this as the intersection of personal property rights and individual second amendment rights. I’ve always been a protector of personal property rights – a fundamental belief that our nation was founded upon. However, I’ve also been an ardent protector of our second amendment rights. I know of many people that hold a concealed to carry permit and carried a weapon in their car for personal security, to and from work; even though it violated company policy. I also know business owners that were well aware that some employees kept a weapon in their car even though the company policy stated it was not allowed. Employees knew they could keep a weapon in their car so long as they used common sense, such as keeping the weapon in a glove box, out of plain sight - when was the last time an employer conducted a search of employee’s cars? However, this issue came to the forefront in the sweeping gun legislation occurring across our nation this year. The new law prevents an employer – with certain exceptions listed in the law – from prohibiting an employee from keeping a lawfully owned weapon in their car, parked on company property.
Open Carry – The new law begins to address the conflicts with open carry that I mentioned earlier. I prefer concealed carry but recognize that others do not.
(Page 6, Line 14), Except as otherwise provided in this article, no person shall carry a pistol about his person on premises private property not his own or under his control unless the person possesses a valid concealed weapon permit or the person has the consent of the owner or legal possessor of the premises.
In short, you have no worries if you have a concealed carry permit – assuming of course that the business owner does not advertise a “no weapons policy”, and you respect their decision. Should you open carry, we are told that a business owner “gives consent” if they do not object to a person being on their premises with a visible holstered pistol. For example, if I enter a restaurant with a holstered pistol and the owner or manager does not object, they have given me consent. Should I be asked to leave, I must leave (and probably won’t be back but that’s another story...).
(Page 8, Line 4) - Except as otherwise prohibited by law, a person legally permitted to possess a pistol, but who does not possess a valid concealed weapon permit, may possess an unloaded pistol in his or her motor vehicle if the pistol is locked in a compartment or container that is in or affixed securely to the vehicle and out of reach of the driver and any passenger in the vehicle.
In simple terms – if you do not have a concealed to carry permit, your pistol must be unloaded and out of reach, locked in the glove box or the trunk. If you have a concealed to carry permit, nothing changes.
Last Thing - Federal Installations; please note, federal installations fall under federal law – therefore those working on Redstone Arsenal must still comply with federal laws concerning carrying a pistol on your person or in your vehicle. In short, federal law trumps state law.
A special thanks for the many, many emails regarding our gun laws during this legislative session. You input was a tremendous help during debate. No doubt we are a passionate lot when it comes to our 2nd Amendment Right and I’m proud to represent you in Montgomery!
Semper Fi - Bill