MONTGOMERY — A Lawrence County lawmaker's bill would create a state database of concealed carry gun permits for law enforcement and would institute a lifetime carry permit, but a gun rights advocate says the measure would burden law-abiding firearms owners.
Rep. Proncey Robertson, R-Mount Hope, said a standardized permitting process and database would create uniformity in permitting across the state and help protect police officers.
“In Alabama, we do not have accurate enough records for a law enforcement officer to make a determination on the street of whether a person is prohibited to carry or not,” Robertson said.
This new database would be run by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and could be updated with court records when someone is convicted of a crime that prohibits them from having a concealed carry permit.
Robertson, a former Decatur police officer, said this will update Alabama’s antiquated permit system and help save lives.
“It drastically improves the safety of the officers out there, so when law enforcement talks about how the permit system is a tool, this makes it a real tool,” Robertson said.
Sen. Randy Price, R-Opelika, is sponsoring the same bill in the Alabama Senate.
Currently, each county has its own permit system which is run through the sheriff’s office. An Alabama citizen can get a one-year or five-year permit if he or she has not been convicted of any disqualifying crimes. Convictions for any Class A or B felony involving serious physical injuries such as murder, rape, robbery, burglary or kidnapping prohibit issuance of a permit.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms announced last year that Alabama’s concealed carry permits would no longer be accepted as proof of a criminal background check at federally licensed gun shops. An investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice discovered that some sheriffs were issuing permits to people without a full background check or even when the National Instant Criminal Background Check System denied the application.
Robertson said he thinks this new database would restore the ATF’s faith in Alabama’s permit system.
“With this system, I believe the ATF will start accepting them again,” Robertson said.
Gun-rights groups, however, believe that Robertson’s bill would add unnecessary hurdles for law-abiding gun owners in Alabama and risk their privacy.
“Why is it always that the law-abiding citizen has to go through more hoops and have their name added to another registry when they are not the problem,” said Chuck Wright, a board member for BamaCarry.
Wright is also worried any third-party vendor that designs and maintains the database could potentially share private information about gun-owning Alabamians.
“There is going to be a third party that administers that,” Wright said. “That means you’re going to have people who are not law enforcement who will have that information.”
But Robertson says this new database is not about creating a registry of gun owners in the state.
“We're not collecting any information that’s different from what has been done for many years,” Robertson said. “We’re not collecting any information in reference to your weapon or what they would be carrying.”
Wright said that current permit-carrying citizens shouldn’t have to submit to changes when it’s the state’s problem to fix.
“All it is, is for the state to fix something at the cost of citizens and it’s going to take money away from sheriffs,” Wright said.
Currently, each county sheriff sets up their own permit costs in each county and those funds go to support their offices. House Bill 39 would also create a lifetime permit that law-abiding citizens could purchase for $200. Sheriffs would still be allowed to set the price for the one-year and five-year permits.
Robertson said he expects some sheriffs to have a problem with the bill since it could possibly cut their revenue from gun permits, but he wants to make sure everyone has easier access to gun permits.
“Many people are sick of coming year after year to pay for something they have to renew when they know they haven’t been arrested for anything,” Robertson said. “My goal is to lessen the burden on the average citizen.”
To lessen the revenue loss, Robertson said the bill also includes a $50 court fee for anyone, no matter if they have a concealed carry permit or not, who is convicted of domestic violence, a violent felony or is involuntarily committed by a probate judge. Those funds would be split between the courts and sheriffs.
“If sheriffs are concerned about losing funding, I get that, but I want to help fund them through the criminals, not the good guys when they simply want to carry their weapon and are law abiding,” Robertson said.
The bill stipulates that the funds from the lifetime permits can only go toward maintaining the database. Robertson did not have an estimate of how much it would cost to maintain it.
Dana Ellis, leader of the Alabama chapter of Moms Demand Action, a gun-control advocacy group, said the group wants to make sure Alabama’s permitting system is effective in protecting its citizens.
“A strong permitting system is an essential part of responsible gun ownership,” Ellis said. “We plan to keep an eye on this bill as we learn more about how it would affect our permitting system.”
In previous years, some Alabama lawmakers have tried to do away with carrying permits altogether, and make Alabama a “constitutional carry” state, but those efforts have failed to get passed in the Statehouse multiple times. Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, has prefiled the bill again this year.
Sheriffs and various law enforcement have said that concealed carry permits are a necessary tool that they use to keep the public safe.
Robertson does not think doing away with permits is a good idea.
“If we did that in Alabama, then what you’re basically doing then is every felon or every domestic violence offender, an officer could stop any one of them with a gun that’s been concealed and they would have no way on the street to identify them as such,” Robertson said.
Ellis also said their organization is concerned about possible upcoming constitutional carry legislation.
“Overall, we’d prefer that lawmakers focus their attention on policies that would help reduce gun violence in Alabama, like extreme risk protection orders that give law enforcement the tools to remove guns in crisis situations,” Ellis said.