Several Alabama law enforcement leaders stood together today at the Mobile County Sheriffâs Office and took a stand against what Mobile Sheriff Sam Cochran called, "The worst piece of legislation Iâve ever seen.â
Alabama Senate bill 286 would radically change the stateâs gun laws, and the changes wouldnât be for the better, Cochran said.
The sheriff said all the law enforcement officials in the state support the Second Amendment, but they are also called to protect the safety of people and uphold the Fifth Amendment, which among other things protects private property.
"The sheriffs and police chiefs with me today have grave concerns about the bill before the state senate. We have concerns for the safety of law enforcement and the citizens of Alabama,â Cochran said. "The third version of 286 is moving rapidly through this legislation. It was introduced Thursday and then voted out of a special committee (Monday). It could come before the senate anytime, but the citizens need to know what it does.â
Among the major changes to the pistol permitting laws in Alabama is that the process of acquiring a permit would change. In doing so, it would take away a sheriffâs right to use discretion in denying permits.
Currently, an Alabama sheriff can deny someone a permit if that person has mental illness, a long record of arrest (not necessarily convictions) of domestic violence, violent behavior, multiple drug arrests, etc. SB286 would move the decision from the sheriff to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
"Under current law, the only violent, mentally ill persons reported to NCIC are those who used a firearm; those who used a knife, vehicle, arson, or other means are not being reported to the NCIC system and can lawfully purchase/own a firearm in Alabama,â Cochran said.
This means under 286 the mentally ill without a criminal record or someone with a long arrest history, but not conviction record, would be able to acquire a pistol permit.
Baldwin County Sheriff Huey "Hossâ Mack illustrated how close that hits to home for his jurisdiction.
"Just two days ago I denied a lady a pistol permit. She had never been arrested, had no criminal record, and had never been convicted of a felony. I denied her because she clearly had problems with mental illness,â he said.
Under 286, that woman would be allowed to have a pistol permit, which Mack viewed as a safety concern. Mack went on further to say under the laws of SB286, the man who shot and killed Baldwin County Deputy Scott Ward in November 2012 would have been able to obtain a pistol permit.
Michael Jansen, the man who shot Ward, had a history of mental illness, but did not have an extensive criminal record, Mack said.
Also, anyone 18 years old and older who had a juvenile record would now be able to get a pistol legally.
Juvenile records are sealed at a federal level, which includes NCIC. However, local law enforcement offices can check to see if someone was convicted of a major crime before the person became an adult.
Cochran said in theory, under SB286 an 18-year-old who just got out of a juvenile delinquent facility for something as serious as robbery could get a pistol and drive around with it in his or her car. This could all be done legally under SB286, he said.
Cochran and Mack said the percentage of discretionary denials they issue is "far less than 1 percentâ of the requests issued. Mobile County Sheriffâs Office issued 38,000 permits in 2012 and Baldwin County had 14,000 permits in 2012.
SB286 does more than put more guns legally in the hands of the mentally ill, Cochran said. The bill also will allow for the following:
Perhaps the most impassioned speaker at the press conference was Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith, who himself had been shot by a man who would have been allowed to legally own a gun under SB286.
- Prohibit an employer from banning employees or invitees from bringing a pistol to and from work if the weapon is kept in a locked vehicle or locked storage at the entrance of the business
- Allows for pistols to be in vehicles regardless of age if the owner has a permit, which would mean teens could now carry firearms
- Allow for pistols at public demonstrations/protests
- Take away control from organizations such as churches over firearms being brought into their buildings and properties
"The legislatures are terrified of the gun lobby, which is what the NRA is who is supporting the bill,â he said. "I do nothing but support Second Amendment rights, but this isnât a decision about the Second Amendment. As sheriffs, we have to be responsible to the public and this only threatens the safety of the public.â
Smith told a hypothetical story of a family at a ballpark when they are scared by a car full of teenagers with guns.
"I canât do anything about that if 286 passes,â he said. "The teens with guns can stay because of this bill.â
The Escambia County Sheriff then flipped through photos of Neo-Nazis and gang members said in theory, SB286 would allow for people in these groups to obtain pistol permits in Alabama.
"The legislators who support this arenât worried about their constituents,â he said. "Theyâre worries about money. The law enforcement up here today care about lives not about money.â
One of the sponsors of the bill is Mobileâs state Senator Rusty Glover (R).
Cochran addressed Glover, however, saying he should "think about the lives and safety of the people he represents.â
However, the senator said the bill is still a work in progress.
"I havenât had much contact with the bill since it left the judiciary committee a few days ago, but I know there are some changes and amendments going to be down the line,â he said. "As the main sponsor of the bill, (Sen. Scott Beason), said, âThe sheriffâs wonât ever be completely happy about this bill.â However, we are working to make sure we get a bill that addresses the problems and is safe for the people.â
Glover said his constituents asked for a change to the stateâs pistol permitting laws.
Currently, Alabama is known as a "shallâ state meaning the sheriffs have some power over who is approved for a permit and who is not, Glover said. If SB286 is passed, Alabama would become a "willâ state, which means the sheriffs would have to grant a permit to anyone who passes a NCIC check. Alabama is one of 11 "shallâ states remaining in the country.
"In the first day of the two days the bill was in committee, we tallied 315 callers for the bill and two against it,â Glover said.
Mack, who testified before the senate on March 5, said Senator Bryan Taylor, the Republican represents Autauga, Butler, Crenshaw, Elmore, Lowndes and Pike counties, said he thought the bill was a solution to a problem the state didnât have. Taylor is one of the 12 senators sponsoring the bill.
Attempts to reach the NRA before press time were unsuccessful.