MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A small but growing number of states are allowing people to carry a concealed handgun in public without a permit. Some lawmakers in Alabama want the state to join the growing list.
Gun rights advocates have pushed the measure in statehouses from South Carolina to Idaho calling it the next battle over Second Amendment rights and dubbing the measure “constitutional carry” arguing a person shouldn’t have to buy a permit to carry a gun.
However, the legislation also has come up against opposition, even in gun-loving conservative states where law enforcement officers and some legislators say it goes too far to abolish background checks for carrying concealed weapons.
A dozen states allow permit-free carrying of concealed handguns, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Rifle Association.
A bill in Alabama seeks to repeal the permit requirement. Under current law, citizens can keep a handgun in the car without a permit, but it must be unloaded and out of reach, such as in the trunk.
The bill cleared the Alabama Senate on a 26-8 party line vote in March. The House committee — which includes three current or former law enforcement officers and a former prosecutor — has not yet voted on the bill with two weeks remaining in the session.
“The committee wants to receive more information from the states that have addressed pieces of legislation like this. …. It’s not there to die,” House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, a former police officer, said. “We are a Second Amendment body. If we are going to pass this, let’s make sure it is right.”
North Dakota in March became the latest state to allow the permit-free carry of concealed handguns. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed a measure into law in February, a bill that had been vetoed by his Democratic predecessor. West Virginia, Missouri and Idaho approved similar measures in 2016. Legislation has been introduced in nearly two dozen other states with varying degrees of success.
“Across the country, in every state, it’s something that gun owners are pushing. It’s a constitutional right,” said Art Thomm of the National Rifle Association after a public hearing on legislation in Alabama.
Shannon Watts, who founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America following the 2012 shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, said the group has mounted opposition to the measures in statehouses across the country.
“They are the NRA’s dream because they will allow gun manufacturers to sell more guns, but it is the public’s nightmare because it will endanger our families,” Watts said of the bills. “Who are lawmakers working for? The public or the gun lobby?”
In deeply red states such as Alabama, the battle has torn Republican lawmakers between two constituencies they like to support: Law enforcement and gun rights enthusiasts.
“We feel the government is taking away a right and then selling us a piece of paper to sell us back that right,” said Eddie Fulmer, a retired firefighter from Tuscaloosa who leads a gun rights group called Bama Carry.
A person in Alabama can legally carry a handgun in a visible hip holster in public. Fulmer argued it made no sense to require a permit if someone puts a jacket on that obscures their holster or if they step inside their vehicle.
“It’s legal for me to openly carry a pistol. But if I have my pistol on my side without a permit, and I swing my leg over my motorcycle, or get in my truck or put on a jacket…. I’m breaking the law,” Fulmer said.
He argued the permits don’t boost public safety because only law-abiding people bother to get them.
Police officers and sheriffs disagreed and packed a public hearing last month at the Alabama Capitol to voice opposition to the legislation.
Deputy Chief Allen Hatcher of the Birmingham Police Department recounted how Birmingham patrol officers recently stopped a car for driving without lights at night. The fact that the men inside had a handgun without a permit allowed them to search the car. Officers found pipe bombs in the car, Hatcher said.
“It’s a tool that we use in many of our encounters on the street: the ability to find out if an individual is lawfully in possession of that weapon,” Hatcher said.
Republican Rep. Allen Treadaway, the chairman of the Alabama House committee reviewing the bill — and a Birmingham police captain— said he is exploring if there is room for a compromise, such as reducing the permit fee, making the issuance time longer, but keeping the permit background check requirement.