State sheriffs on Wednesday opposed legislation backed by gun rights groups that would allow people to carry concealed handguns in public without obtaining a state permit.
The bill by Republican Sen. Gerald Allen of Tuscaloosa would do away with the current state requirement to obtain a concealed carry permit. During a Wednesday public hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, proponents called the permits an infringement on a person’s right to carry a firearm while opponents called the proposal a threat to public safety.
“We have a constitutional right to protect ourselves, our families, our properties without paying a small fee, a tax, for a permit,” Allen said.
The National Rifle Association backs the bill and says 16 states have approved some version of permitless carry, sometimes dubbed “constitutional carry” by supporters.
Sheriffs say the permits are a tool for law enforcement officers to apprehend criminals, stop crimes and protect communities.
Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham said currently when criminals see a law enforcement officer they will toss a weapon and run. If the permit requirement is abolished, they will carry that weapon without concern.
“That permit is a tool. If we apprehend somebody that doesn’t have a permit, we are able to remove that person off the street,” Cunningham said. “We see a lot of blood on the streets but at the same time this bill right here will increase that. Right now, we are taking that tool away from our law enforcement officers.”
Members of the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America also opposed the bill known as Senate Bill 4.
“SB4 is a dangerous proposal and I ask that you vote against it,” said Judy Taylor of Moms Demand Action.
Todd Adkins, state director for the National Rifle Association of Alabama, defended the measure.
“The premise of SB4 is that law-abiding citizens have a right to defend themselves,” Adkins said.
Allen predicted many people would still continue to get the permits, for ease of traveling across state lines and other reasons.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Cam Ward said the committee will vote on the bill next week.
Allen has proposed the bill for several years, but the legislation has stalled in the House of Representatives amid concerns from law enforcement.
“This bill will start in the House of Representatives in 2020 if we don’t get a resolution this time,” Ward said.