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02/26/2013

Pending gun legislation frightens sheriff

Pending gun legislation frightens sheriff

  • Bill would limit law enforcement, private property owner’s authority

 Article contributed by The Journal Record

By TRACY ESTES News Editor

 

Sheriff Kevin Williams

Legislation is pending in Montgomery which would expand a citizen’s legal right to carry a firearm, but may also limit a property owner from prohibiting those carrying these same weapons onto his land.

This dilemma and various other details of the bill have drawn the attention of law enforcement officials across the state, including the new president of the Alabama Sheriffs Association (ASA).

“The general public is scared for a number of very legitimate reasons and I do understand that, but there are a number of issues here,’’ said Marion County Sheriff Kevin Williams, who was sworn- in as the president of the association less than 48  hours prior to conducting an interview with the Journal Record on Thursday, Feb. 14.

“People are really up in arms about their Second Amendment rights and are afraid the government will try to take over their right to own a firearm. I assure you the sheriffs association very much supports the Second Amendment. Folks are also worried that the federal government will limit their right to purchase the high- powered rifles or high-capacity clips. But this legislation is not the way to protect the citizens’ right to own a weapon.’’

The legislation to which Williams referred is known as Senate Bill 129 sponsored by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, along with a host of other co-sponsors.

Various parts of the bill concern Williams and the sheriffs association as the legislation is expected to come before a committee for a early review next week.

According to Williams, the critical points of the bill involve allowing a gun owner to carry a weapon on property against the property owner’s wishes, as long as the weapon is concealed.

The legislation would also remove an existing state law requiring a gun owner to first obtain a pistol permit in order to carry a pistol in a vehicle.

Another section of the bill would require the sheriff to issue a permit within 30 days of a person applying for such and would eliminate the right of the local sheriff to refuse a permit to anyone who has not been convicted of a felony.

Under current state law, a sheriff can reject a request for a permit even if the person has never been convicted of a felony, if the sheriff is aware of other circumstances which might deem the applicant as a threat to society.

The legislation would also extend the life of a permit from the current span of one year to four years. This part of the legislation has not drawn opposition from the state sheriffs association.

However, the legislation will allow a resident to seek a permit in any county within the state whether or not the applicant is a resident of the county in which he seeks a permit.

“The association does not support this part of the plan as sometimes it is important for the sheriff to know folks who are seeking a permit and their background--whether they have been convicted of a felony or not,’’ Williams said.

“Allowing a person to run over to the next county to get a permit is just creating a new loophole for a person where he is not known.

“And there are times when a person may not have been convicted of a felony, but still does not need to own a firearm. I know of cases that have been plea-bargained down to a misdemeanor and are no longer felonies, but the person still committed the crime. Does that person need a pistol permit?’’

Williams said the current law allows the local sheriff to exercise discretion in issuing pistol permits.

“By removing a sheriff’s ability to screen permits, this bill will put guns in the hands of criminals, mental patients, gang members and others,’’ added Williams, who noted the legislation is also opposed by the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police, Alabama Association of County Commissioners and the Alabama Association of District Attorneys.

Further discussion of the pending legislation ushered in other concerns for the new association president.

“What about a person’s private party or even church? If this bill passes, a person can bring a gun to church or school or even municipal court and there would not be a thing the property owner could do to prevent it.

“Do you want to be sitting at church wondering if the person next to you has a gun, even if the church has a policy against bringing a weapon on the church grounds? If this bill passes, you could not stop it.

“What should an officer do if he sees a person carrying a semi- automatic weapon on a school campus, at a football game or at the mall? With this law, they could not even ask questions. Believe me, I support the Second Amendment, but there must be a little common sense included, too.’’

Under the proposed plans, sheriffs would be required to issue a permit to illegal aliens as long as they have not been convicted of a major crime.

“I do not issue permits to illegal aliens regardless of their criminal history,’’ said Williams. “They are not in our country legally, so I do not issue a permit. I would not have such an option, if this bill passes.’’

Another point of concern for sheriffs and other law enforcement officials across the state is the personal liability exposure the bill could bring.

In the waning paragraphs of the legislative bill, there is wording which notes it would be illegal for any official to “knowingly’’ violate a person’s right as defined by this law.

Such violations could bring a fine of between $10,000 and $100,000 against the law enforcement officer. Maybe more importantly is the fact the officer would not be given the luxury of using public tax dollars to defend himself even though his action was taken in his official duty.

“Again, I know people are scared,’’ Williams said. “I have issued more permits in the last three weeks than at any time in my career. I guess the number would be double the normal amount.

“And it is important to note. This is not crazy folks out buying guns. There are your normal law-abiding citizens who are simply fearful the time is coming when they can no longer buy a weapon.

“I understand the concern, but this legislation is not the way to fix the problem.’’

 

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