MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Following moves in at least two other states, a proposed amendment to the Alabama Constitution would make owning firearms a fundamental right, and measures to control weapons would have to pass the toughest review by state courts.
Residents will vote in November on the proposal, sponsored by Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia. He called the amendment a dose of caution should federal gun protections erode or should Alabama politicians try to enact overreaching gun control measures.
“We want to have that very strong fundamental protection for individual gun rights,” Jones said.
But opponents say the amendment could be used to dismantle the state’s existing limits on gun ownership and possession.
“This is a gift to the gun criminals and the criminal defense lawyers that represent them,” said Jonathan Lowy, director of the Legal Action Project of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The proposed amendment uses National Rifle Association-backed language and says “every citizen has a fundamental right to bear arms and that any restriction on this right would be subject to strict scrutiny.”
Strict scrutiny is the most stringent level of judicial review. It requires a compelling interest before regulating constitutional rights. Strict scrutiny also requires that any limits must be the least restrictive possible.
In 2012, Louisiana became the first state to put the NRA-backed language in its state constitution. Missouri became the second when voters approved a similar measure in August, according to the NRA.
In Louisiana, the amendment set off a string of challenges to existing state firearms statutes, including bans on firearm possession by felons and juveniles.
The Louisiana Supreme Court eventually upheld the bans, saying both laws survived the strict scrutiny test. The justices said voters still had an “expectation of sensible firearm regulation” when they approved the constitutional amendment.
Lowy said he would expect similar cases in Alabama.
“It’s a dangerous solution without a problem. There is no indication in Alabama that I’m aware of that suggests that Second Amendment rights are not being respected,” Lowy said.
Jones called the criticisms unfounded.
“We’re not going to pitch out common sense. That is not the intent,” Jones said.
Alabama lawmakers approved the proposed constitutional amendment in 2013. It was part of the House Republicans’ “We Dare Defend Our Rights” agenda.
The measure would not stop any federal gun control measures – federal law trumps state law. But Jones said it could stop state and local governments in Alabama from passing gun restrictions that overreach.
“If our state government, or any municipal or county government, creates any sort of law that restricts gun rights, it will be looked upon to make sure it meets that burden and it doesn’t overstep,” Jones said.
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