Alabama Senate Passes Pro-Gun Omnibus Firearms Bill

Alabama's capitol building courtesy politicsalabama.org

By Benjamin Jarrell

There has been a lot made in the news and other media about gun control measures being passed at the state level. Less has been made of the pushback against the disarmament wave in some other states, like Alabama, to strengthen and shore up gun rights. Yesterday the Alabama Senate passed SB 286, an Omnibus Firearms bill that strengthens gun rights in the Yellowhammer State. However, it will still need to make it through House before ending up on the Governors desk . . .

You can find the text of the bill here.

What Does the Omnibus Firearms Bill Do?

Alabama already recognizes very strong gun rights, but they are scattered throughout the Constitution, various statutes, case law, Attorney General opinions, and so forth. This omnibus bill consolidates certain statutory provisions and expands on them. The bill states its purpose as follows:

“The purpose of this section is to establish within the Legislature complete control over regulation and policy pertaining to firearms, ammunition, and firearm accessories in order to ensure that such regulation and policy is applied uniformly throughout this state to each person subject to the state’s jurisdiction and to ensure protection of the right to keep and bear arms recognized by the Constitutions of the State of Alabama and the United States. This section is to be liberally construed to accomplish its purpose.”

That should help clear up any ambiguities. Let’s take a look.

Carrying, concealed or otherwise

Under current Alabama law, possession of a pistol inside a vehicle is considered “concealment” and requires a pistol permit. This bill would eliminate the presumption that a pistol is concealed merely because it is inside a vehicle. The NRA is calling this a “car carry permit” that is free of charge and good for life. However, I think that may be exaggerating the scope of this new language.

The bill is amended to add two items: first, carrying a holstered firearm does not constitute disorderly conduct, and second, there is no presumption that the pistol is concealed merely because it is inside of a vehicle. I read that to mean that the state bears the burden of proof in proving that the pistol was concealed and that if the state wanted to prosecute someone, they would merely have to prove that the individual was in fact concealing the firearm (for instance, inside of a jacket) without having a pistol license. If this becomes law, it remains to be seen how this will be enforced.

The first item seems to make explicit in statute what was previously buried in the Alabama Constitution and case-law: that openly carrying a firearm is not in and of itself unlawful. This is bolstered by language in the concealed-carry section, stating that the statutes should not be construed to limit a person’s right to openly carry.

Issuance of Pistol Permits

Under current Alabama law, the Sherriff’s office has discretion in awarding concealed carry permits. This new language would amend “may issue,” which gives the Sherriff an option, to “shall issue,” which will not, and it will require the Sherriff to either issue or deny the pistol permit within thirty days. A denial must be made in writing and based on documented, specific actions, some of which must have occurred within the past two years, that the individual is likely to endanger themselves or others.

The rationale for revoking a license mirrors the criteria for issuance of a license. If an individual is denied, they have the right to appeal the denial to an appeals panel made up of the probate judge, the district attorney, and the president of the local bar association. Another interesting provision is that the individual applying for the permit gets to determine whether their license expires in 1 or 5 years, or possibly some increment in-between. Importantly, the statute now affirmatively states that a licensed individual can carry concealed throughout the state, unless prohibited by law. This clears up some confusion about when and where it is appropriate to carry.

For concealed-carry proponents, this is a big win. It remains to be seen how the Sherriff’s offices will respond. At least in Madison County, I know the backlog of applications can often exceed 30 days. Perhaps spacing out renewals will ease up their backlog. Removing the Sherriff’s discretion might also speed up the process, since they are required to issue the permit, unless they have a reason, based on documented evidence. I applaud including the local bar president in the appeals panel as a means of advocating for the individual and protecting civil rights. However, the American Bar Association recently tainted their reputation respecting 2nd Amendment civil rights and I hope that local bars will do better.

A few other items relating to pistol permits: the bill sets up a mechanism for issuance of a permit to non-citizens in some circumstances, although illegal immigrants are specifically excluded. A NICS check is now required for the issuance of a permit, although my understanding was that the Sherriff’s office already conducted a NICS check. The Attorney General is authorized to reciprocate pistol permits (as they already do).

Relating to Businesses and Employers

 The bill addresses a conflict that has arisen between business owners who want to prohibit the presence of weapons on their property, and the rights of gun owners who want to be able to leave their weapons in their cars during the workday. This conflict pitted property rights of business owners against the rights of workers to legally carry a firearm for self-defense, hunting, or some other legal purpose. They argued that if they were not allowed to safely store their firearms, they could not effectively carry for self-defense at all.

This bill resolves this conflict strongly in favor of employees. Business owners/employers may not now prohibit employees from transporting or storing firearms in their private motor vehicles, so long as the firearm is out of sight, in the trunk, or in a secure container. An employer may not inquire whether an employee is transporting or storing a firearm, may not terminate an employee for keeping a firearm in their car, and it provides for some serious remedies for employees who are wrongfully terminated for doing so. That statute provides for full recovery by wrongfully terminated employees, including reinstatement of their position, full fringe benefits and seniority rights, compensation for lost wages, benefits, or other remuneration, and any legal costs incurred.

The bill allows Alabama businesses to prohibit employees from carrying weapons while on the job. They may also prohibit people licensed to carry concealed from coming on the premises, so long as a notice that concealed weapons are disallowed is posted prominently at every entrance. If someone disregards the notice, the business owner can request that they leave, and if they refuse, then they can be arrested for trespassing.

Business owners who prohibit individuals from safely carrying or storing a firearm in their vehicle can become civilly liable for an injunction, and damages arising from damage, injury, or death that occurs because of the prohibition. I interpret this to mean that if you are prohibited from carrying on the premises and are unable to defend yourself, the business becomes liable.

The Alabama business community fought these provisions, and although they largely lost, they scored a major concession that seems designed to make tort lawyers cry: almost absolute civil immunity for criminal acts that occur on their premises. The bill states that business owners have no obligation to guard against criminal acts of a third party unless they know that a criminal act is occurring or is about to occur, and that is poses an imminent probability of harm to someone. So if someone shoots you at a restaurant (or a movie theater) you wouldn’t be able to seek recourse from the business or owner. Although this is clearly a concession to the business community, I can’t help but wonder if it will encourage concealed carry if this becomes widely known.

Carrying on State Premises

As a lawyer who goes in and out of the Courthouse and other state and city buildings with some frequency, this next provision makes me happy. The bill  requires that if the state, or any political subdivision thereof prohibits the carrying of a weapon onto their premises, they must provide a means for an individual to check their weapon with a designated person at a designated entrance to the facility, who must store it in a locked location. Failure of the state to do so opens them up to a civil injunction, and they will become liable for the costs and attorney’s fees incurred in bringing an action. However, this would obviously not apply to Federal premises.

Demonstrations

The bill repeals the statute that prohibits people from carrying a weapon within 1,000 feet of a public demonstration is repealed outright. This always struck me as a stupid provision, and I think Alabama lawmakers probably recognized that any law that criminalizes the lawful exercise of a fundamental constitutional right is unconstitutional. It was only a matter of time before this went away.

Final Thoughts

This bill is great news for proponents of broad gun rights in the Yellowhammer State. However, it still has to be taken up in the House, and signed by the Governor. If you want to see these provisions become law, please contact your local representatives and the Governors office and let them know you support SB 286, the Omnibus Firearms Bill.

Find your State legislators and their contact information here. Although you should probably wait until the bill makes it out of the House, Governor Bentley’s contact information can be found here.

25 Responses to Alabama Senate Passes Pro-Gun Omnibus Firearms Bill

  1. avatarGregolas says:

    Excellent job Benjamin! Thank you!

  2. avatarGyufygy says:

    Awesome! I can only hope something similar pops up in NC.

  3. avatarRandy Drescher says:

    Good luck Alabama. Wisconsin was lucky that we were able to get most of this through when the law changed here. We differ in that if you post “no weapons” you can get the pi$$ sued out of you, Randy

    • avatarBrock says:

      The law in Indiana currently resembles what Alabama is working on, at least as far as the employer and gun free zone signs go. I am originally from NC and was pleasently surprised when I read that the signs held no legal authority. There are also no restrictions on going to bars when carrying a handgun.

      The passage above about businesses being liable if they leave a citizen disarmed and do not provide protection makes me wonder. There were a few businesses in the town I live in that 6 months ago, had gun free zone signs up, they have over time disappeared. I wonder if there is some legal reason the signs are dissapearing, or if someone is just taking them down to be a smart ass.

      I would check the employer rights section for possible exceptions. Indiana law, states that you can not be reprimanded for keeping a lawfully carried weapon in your vehicle, on employer property, as long as it is hidden or secured. There is an exception to that though. If you park in a secured parking lot, your employer can reprimand you.

      Actually, this exception puts me in a tough spot. I have the option to park in an unsecured lot, or one with badge access and daytime security. The town I work in is not too bad but there is often spillover from the surrounding area. Between 25 and 50 cars a year are stolen or broken in to from the unsecured parking lots. I am currently traveling to and from work unarmed, but considering the area I must drive through during my commute, am considering switching that.

      It’s good to hear another state is going shall issue. Sherrif must approve laws were originally written in most places to keep minority’s from carrying firearms. We are headed the right direction in some states.

  4. avatarJason says:

    Yes, it is a step in the right direction. However, it still prevents students (and employees) of universities from concealed carry on campus. We are subject to expulsion (students) or termination (employees) for concealed carry (outside of safe storage in a vehicle) while on campus property. The campus is open to the public and the universities receive state and federal funding.

    While employees being able to store firearms in their vehicles is a step in the right direction, what about students? And what good does this do when a student or employee has to walk to his/her car in a remote parking lot without the reassurance provided by having a CCW?

    If you want to know more — shameless plug — visit concealedcampus.org. We are actively working to bring awareness to this policy shortcoming, to have it changed at the university level, and to write legislation with our congress-critters that would specifically prohibit the universities from infringing on our rights when we cross an arbitrary line on a map

    • avatarRandy Drescher says:

      It is sad when someone has the right to kill a person by taking away the means to self defense. I hope the courts get on this soon, Randy

  5. avatarJim R says:

    I’d like to see this happen in PA too, but not likely. Lots of 2A supporters in this state, but a lot of them are of the “I like guns, but…” category.

  6. avatarDave says:

    It’s hard to say which parts of this bill are the most important ones. Perhaps it’s a matter of opinion. My own view is that making AL “shall issue” is among the most critical. “May issue in practice”, as it is now, is all well and good, but times change and it’s important to get it right before they do.

    What are its prospects in the House and with the governor if it gets to him?

    • avatarRKflorida says:

      Yes – what are the chances of it passing the Alabama house and getting the Gov. to sign it??

      • avatarDave says:

        Many sheriffs in Alabama don’t seem to like this bill. I am not sure which provisions bother them the most.

        • avatarNor'Easter says:

          I think it’s the “shall issue” part, they like to keep that as an option – but I think they’ll get over it.

  7. avatarBryan P says:

    I am willing to bet we will see more of this in other Pro-2A states now. Someone has started the ball rolling and eventually it will turn into a set line between Pro and Anti states.

  8. avatarRussell says:

    What about the section that requires organizers of gun shows to indefinitely retain documentation on sales of handguns that occur at the gun shows by individuals?

  9. avatarSoutherner says:

    SB 286 Passes Alabama Senate – Very different from the original version

    Apparent changes to original bill:

    Retains carry/possession prohibition at public demonstrations.

    Sets up vehicle carry only license for Alabama residents.

    Not to mention the potential of this bill for the continued prosecution of visitors from surrounding states where keeping a handgun in a car is completely legal without any government paper.

    The revised bill also initiates new taxes on, requires background checks, and permanent record keeping requirements for all firearms transactions conducted at gun shows.

    http://openstates.org/al/bills/2013rs/SB286/documents/ALD00015024/

  10. avatarNor'Easter says:

    Good for Alabama and I hope this serves as a model for many others. Not only for the specific points made but in the general principle that the usual menage of laws being overhauled for clarity and logic. It’s not perfect but you do what you can and far ahead of us in the occupied, Constitution Free zones.
    I won’t bore everybody with a repost of my proposed “Bill of Rights” for gunowners but I see one being formed before my very eyes. God Save the South!

  11. avatarRuss Bixby says:

    On NPR yesterday it was mentioned how more states are passing pro-gun legislation than the reverse.

    The “pockets” of insanity are just that.

  12. avatarChuckN says:

    I like the bit about carrying in State buildings. It offers a more
    secure and realistic option for CCW holders who are in and
    out all day long. A nice “common sense” solution.

  13. avatarSoutherner says:

    “The bill requires that if the state, or any political subdivision thereof prohibits the carrying of a weapon onto their premises, they must provide a means for an individual to check their weapon with a designated person at a designated entrance to the facility, who must store it in a locked location. Failure of the state to do so opens them up to a civil injunction, and they will become liable for the costs and attorney’s fees incurred in bringing an action.”

    Above deleted in Senate passed version:

    http://openstates.org/al/bills/2013rs/SB286/documents/ALD00015024/

  14. avatarGreg Camp says:

    This bill is excellent news. But it is a message that our nation is dividing into two sharply opposed sides. Those of us who believe in a libertarian philosophy clearly have a lot more work to do across the whole of the country–not just about guns, but about many issues.

  15. avatarWilliam Burke says:

    KUDOS, Alabama… it’s good news to hear that Alabamans transporting a handgun by car no longer have to have it welded to the outside of the vehicle!!!

    • avatarSoutherner says:

      Alabamians will still have to have a Pistol Permit or a Vehicle carry only permit to transport a pistol in their cars – if the current bill is passed without further amendment in the House next week.

  16. avatarBen says:

    I can’t wait to get the hell out of California. 3 more years. 1 of which will be out of country anyways. News like this makes me want to flee this state immediately.

    • avatarGunr, from Oregon says:

      I know how you feel, I lived in Kalifornia for many years. Dianne baby is getting old, maybe she will die off before long!

  17. avatarSosalty Sosauty says:

    Wow! My retirement house is under construction in AL (leaving Kalifornia) and I’ve just obtained an AZ CCW which has reciprocity with AL. Looks like I’ll be free to carry for me and my wife’s protection when we spend this summer there. As an added note, in an AL Walmart parking lot, we leave our car unlocked while shopping and feel safe whether we choose to carry or not. In a Kali Walmart parking lot, we can’t carry, always lock the car and feel unsafe.

  18. avatarWaldon Richardson says:

    Tried to get pistol permit app. 3 years ago and was denied by sheriff for one felony which happened 1n 1975 for illegal posession of controled substance. Was told and filed papers with state pardon in alabama it has been three years and have not heard from them. Have had good record for 30 plus years and at time in 1975 was convicted of non violent crime. In this new law where it states 2 years does that mean just because something happened 35 years ago would not have to be pardoned and could obtain a permit regardless as to wheather sheriff liked you or not. Would appreciate answers from anyone. Retired 69 years ago just want to protect family.

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