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By Andrew Smith

Recently, my family drove along a large portion of the Interstate Highway System in Alabama, which in turn necessitated several stops at multiple rest areas. At each rest area, there was some form of sign that read, “No Weapons Beyond This Point.” Being a responsible gun toter, I try to research the gun laws in each state through which I travel. Up until this point, I thought that I had a pretty good understanding of Alabama’s laws, and rest areas were not one of the prohibited places listed in the Alabama Code . . .

Upon arriving home, I researched the issue. I discovered several threads on gun-related message boards, and a few articles on sites such as The Truth About Guns. The general feeling of the gun community was that the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) was illegally posting the rest areas. The internet trail started in January 2014 but seemed to peter out about 6 months later. I could find no resolution about this issue, no justification for the ban or reports of lawsuits against ALDOT.

I began with a simple email to ALDOT. I initially communicated with two different individuals in the Maintenance department, which oversees the rest areas. The ALDOT personnel cited section 13A-11-61.2 (a) of the Alabama Code as giving them the power to regulate firearms in their buildings through their rule making authority, and then cited Alabama Administrative Code section 450-3-1-.08 as the specific rule that prohibits firearms.

Despite both of their assurances, I could not see the authority granted to ALDOT. I could clearly see the rule they made, but I could not see the specific language that gave them that power. I spent the weekend reviewing the Alabama Code, but my understanding was no clearer.

I wanted to have my ducks in a row before contacting anyone else. The relevant language of 13A-11-61.2 (a) is:

In addition to any other place limited or prohibited by state or federal law, a person, including a person with a permit issued under Section 13A-11-75(a)(1) or recognized under Section 13A- 11-85, may not knowingly possess or carry a firearm in any of the following places without the express permission of a person or entity with authority over the premises:

The section then goes on to list various locations, from jails to professional sporting events, as places that may prohibit firearms. Rest areas, however, are not on that list.

Furthermore, in my research, I found that the Alabama legislature has preempted any political subdivision from regulating firearms; the code was recently revised in 2013. The code contains language (Alabama Code Section 13A-11-61.3), which is very strongly worded to prevent any other part of Alabama government from making laws about firearms. In addition, it includes a specific remedy to petition the Alabama Attorney General to bring action upon a political subdivision that is illegally regulating firearms.

To my surprise (maybe I am jaded), I eventually spoke with John Cooper, the Director of ALDOT. During our conversation, it became clear that he was of the “Fudd” mentality; he didn’t think anyone would need a gun in an Alabama rest area. He indicated that the legal department was in the process of formulating a response to an inquiry by the Attorney General. However, until and if the Attorney General rules against them, ALDOT intended to keep the signs up, and would arrest and prosecute anyone with a gun in their rest areas.

I tried to impress on him the illogic and immorality of the rule, even if ALDOT had the authority. I used the example of my 90-pound, very petite wife. A gun is one of the only realistic methods of self defense available to her; she said that she felt very alone in the restroom even during the day. I can imagine that feeling would be worse at 1 AM.

Mr. Cooper brushed off those concerns by saying his wife had never been afraid to use the rest areas when they travel. I guess those important “feelings of safety” often touted by anti-gun zealots are only valid for those who don’t chose to carry guns.

When pressed on the source of ALDOT’s authority to ban guns, Director Cooper could not cite the specific law, but he said that they have doors and 24-hour attendants at the rest areas; he was referring to the part of the code that prohibits guns in buildings with screened security. The relevant code refers to

any building or facility to which access of unauthorized persons and prohibited articles is limited during normal hours of operation by the continuous posting of guards and the use of other security features, including, but not limited to, magnetometers, key cards, biometric screening devices, or turnstiles or other physical barriers.

The rest area attendants (who I never saw) and unlocked glass doors do not meet this requirement no matter how much wishful thinking is applied.

Since I now had the reasoning for the signs, I added my own petition to the Attorney General. Although I could find no internet trail to that effect, Director Cooper alluded to other possible petitions to the Attorney General. Coincidentally on the same day I mailed my petition, I finally received the reply from the “legal department,” which turned out to be Chief Counsel for ALDOT, Jim Ippolito. His legal analysis of the law differed from Director Cooper. He used an Attorney General opinion given to a school board that wanted to make rules about guns on their campus as a basis for ALDOT’s authority. Mr. Ippolito wrote,

As you noted, section 13A-11-61.2(a)which lists six specific places where a person may not possess or carry firearms does not include rest areas. However, the introduction to of this section states firearms are prohibited “[i]n addition to any other place limited or prohibited by state or federal law.” In interpreting this portion of the firearms law, the Attorney General’s office stated that while the firearms legislation was intended to preempt local gun regulation, the legislature also expressly recognized other entities’ statutory authority to regulate and prohibit gun possession. Ala. Op. Atty. Gen. No. 2014-044, 2014 WL 901443

The summary of his opinion is that ALDOT is not a political subdivision, and thus the preemption statute does not apply; other parts of the Alabama Code gives agencies rule-making authority that carries the force of law; and the Attorney General ruled that a government entity (a school board) could still regulate guns, so therefore other agencies can also. So rather than having a specifically-enumerated authority to ban guns, ALDOT appears to have extracted the power from the empty spaces within the code.

On a related note, Mr. Ippolito is listed as the author of two amendments to the rule that specifically bans guns on ALDOT property. These amendments were added in May 2013 and July 2014. A cynical person might think that ALDOT directed Mr. Ippolito to comb through the language that was changed by the legislature in 2013 and find a loophole. Is it any wonder that these “No Weapons” signs were first noticed in early 2014?

In summary, the intent of the Alabama legislature is clear—they did not want a patchwork of laws creating nebulous gun-free zones around the state, so they named very specific locations as off limits. The rest of the public property in the state was meant to be open for legal carry.

If Mr. Ippolito’s interpretation is correct, then any agency with rule-making authority could regulate guns in their on little domains. Conceivably, a single government office building housing multiple agencies could have one office off limits and another one clear to carry. Some agencies control a good deal of property. The implications are concerning. Furthermore, why would the legislature prohibit the county health department from banning guns but give that power to the state health department? It makes no sense based on my reading of the law.

When we, the gun carriers, violate the law, we are fined or jailed. When the government violates the law, there is a lengthy process just to get them to correct their actions. There is no punishment. There seems to be hardly any accountability.

I never thought I would influence anyone at ALDOT to change their policy; they have had over a year to change and have not. However, I did not want “them” (ALDOT, the governor, the Alabama government in general), to think that this issue was going unnoticed.

At this point, the Attorney General can compel ALDOT to change their rules; otherwise, he has 90 days to explain why he rejects a petition. Since presumably there should already be multiple petitions from Alabamians and Alabama groups, he should make a ruling soon. If he rules in favor of ALDOT, then the only recourse for us otherwise law-abiding citizens is to ask the legislature to make the law even more specific. I will still pursue the issue, but there is a limit to what one can do alone.

55 Responses to Contest Entry: Despite Preemption Law, AL Dept of Transportation Bans Firearms From Rest Stops

  1. That theory of ALDOT being a part of the state government and not a subdivision was my very first thought. I guess I have gotten cynically-experienced in dealing with bureaucrats, who have nothing better to do all day than twist words and phrases.

    • But they still don’t have the type of security the law requires them to have for a gun free zone. I also think it’s unlikely that rest stop bathrooms will each get metal detectors. I might add that a rest stop bathroom is the stupidest place to ban a fire arm. NOBODY is likely to be there accept the person carrying unless they are robbing or raping them.

      • Neither do most college or school campuses, but that hasn’t stopped them from doing the same thing as ALDOT.

    • The AG’s legal analysis is correct. That is why my state’s ccw law refers to any “entity operating under color of law” in it’s clean up clause. In the 1980’s when NRA was getting preemption laws enacted all over the nation, the focus was on cities and towns like Morton Grove and not on state agencies.

    • So, any part of AL government can disregard the laws written by the Legislature, and signed by the Governor, at their pleasure?
      I imagine that’s going to go over real big with the Poo-bahs in Montgomery, particularly those that handle appropriations.

      • We have too many of these D.A.’s on staff or on salary : That’s all they have to do is come up with B.S. like this . These are some of the people that need to be cut from the State payroll. They definitely don’t earn their keep.

    • I live well to the northwest of B’ham, and will gladly put pen to paper in regards to this issue. My father-in-law also drives trucks out of Red Bay, and I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to learn this tidbit about ALDOT. He’s a big fan of writing letters to Montgomery in regards to the 2A when something gets his blood up.

  2. Our task is to keep working these infringements. Eventually, our State legislatures will get tired of their inferiors jerking their constituents around and then having to hear the complains and pass a new law. Legislatures might go so far as PA’s in providing that the successful plaintiff in a suit violating the preemption law can get legal expenses from the unsuccessful defendant. That is when this will stop.

    • They shot that law down, btw. I tried to get TTAG to cover it but I guess a guy shooting his TV over Caitlyn Jenner was more important.

      • “I tried to get TTAG to cover it but I guess a guy shooting his TV over Caitlyn Jenner was more important.”

        It isn’t just you.

        I tipped TTAG about that smirking jackwad Matthew Apperson being charged in late June with attempted murder for shooting George Zimmerman and they ignored it…

        • TTAG’s posting policy: no flaming the website, its authors or fellow commentators. If you have questions or concerns about TTAG’s editorial stance or style please email them to thetruthaboutguns@gmail.com where we will engage in private correspondence. We do this to prevent threads from going off-topic.

  3. I sincerely thank you and people like you who have the courage and will power to fight for our rights and freedom.

    Keep up the good work.

    One more year of law school at Alabama and I will join the legal crusade against tyranny and oppression.

  4. Human Rights don’t have an “area” or a “non-area”. Neither Municipalities nor States have any lawful power to disarm free persons except perhaps under VERY limited and temporary circumstances where equivalent armed protection (for You and Yours personally) is provided by the body itself.

    Robbery, Rape, etc are already illegal.

    Higher charges for the use of firearms during the commission of other crimes already exist.

    The only possible function of signs presuming to dictate a “gun-free” zone is to create the conditions for More crime by making the law-abiding members of society be disarmed in the potential, and subsequently more-likely, presence of predatory criminals.

    Substitute this:
    “No Free Speech Beyond This Point.”
    “No Security in Your Papers or Person Beyond This Point.”
    “No Right to a Fair Trial Beyond This Point.”
    “No Equal Treatment Under The Law Beyond This Point.”

    … it makes the absurdity louder.

    • The only possible function of signs presuming to dictate a “gun-free” zone is to create the conditions for More crime by making the law-abiding members of society be disarmed in the potential, and subsequently more-likely, presence of predatory criminals.

      It sure makes you question whether the entities who put up those signs are accomplices to violent criminals.

    • Well, how about just zip down and relieve oneself…. At the base of the sign… After all when a man’s gotta go a man’s gotta go…

      As to the charge of public indecency….defense of legal necessity.

      • You mean urinate on the sign and leave DNA evidence?

        Yeah right and find yourself on the next installment of CSI Bama.

  5. That’s a hell of a lot of work just to be able to pee in a state toilet. If the law say’s you can’t come in the building with the proper protection, then just stand outside and pee on the plants!

  6. We have a similar situation here in PA. In my county there are more than 70 political subdivisions, not count school districts which have taxing authority and have an elected school board. There are a few state agencies that have implemented their own gun regs (Gaming Commission and State Parks are two that come right to mind). Neither one is considered at political subdivision.

    I hope you win this fight, for too long these unelected politicians have just made things up. Who would enforce the regulation they enacted?

  7. I stopped at an Alabama rest stop not long ago, the last one on I-10 as you’re leaving Alabama before you cross into Mississippi. There was no sign up at this particular rest stop prohibiting firearms. I went out of my way to look for one because I was carrying. There was an older, obese security dude in a golf cart, but he was sleeping and I don’t think he was armed.

  8. The rule of law is dead in this country

    When the President, the DOJ, the IRS, ATF, and all the other alphabet agencies – down to the cop on the beat – can make up, ignore, or exercise selective enforcement of the laws on the books with no consequence, why would the Alabama DOT not feel the same freedom? When the Supreme Court can create a Constitutional right out of whole cloth, because it is the “right” thing to do, and when the DOJ becomes a weapon against your political enemies, the rule of law is dead.

    Massive civil disobedience has become the only logical reaction.

  9. Most dangerous place on the road is the rest area……..these people have their head up their butts

    • ….and that is the reason they do not use Alabama highway rest stop or any other facility designed for the elimination of used protein and vegitable matter

  10. I think this guy deserves a Henry just for the effort put in against a bureaucracy. I couldn’t find the patience or temperament to deal with those cubicle goblins.

  11. Seems like ALDOT throwing around unfounded power. They were called out and had to scramble to do a CYA. Now being put on the spot, it becomes a matter of authoritarian pride.

    Rest stops are places which are supposed to be somewhat universally friendly to all travelers with a reasonable expectation to feel safe. Since a rest-stop is a melting pot of who know who or what, they seem like a more than typical place for good reason to be armed.

    ALDOT is screwed up on this and needs to allow all travelers to feel and be as safe as possible. Why would they risk a lawsuit from a person being attacked with no means of self-protection?

    • If Alabama is anything like California, ALDOT has statutory sovereign immunity. My office successfully defended just such a case on this ground for a rape occurring at a deserted rest stop on I-5 thirty years ago.

  12. “I used the example of my 90-pound, very petite wife. A gun is one of the only realistic methods of self defense available to her; she said that she felt very alone in the restroom even during the day. I can imagine that feeling would be worse at 1 AM. Mr. Cooper brushed off those concerns by saying his wife had never been afraid to use the rest areas when they travel.”

    Well, fuck him and his incompetent imagination.

    See “Bitches with guns” — a story of exactly this — here: http://www.aware.org/resources/women-guns-articles/12-lyn-bates/107-bitches-with-guns

    • It is aimed at preventing guns in the buildings, although one sign was on the curb in the parking lot.

  13. Something to keep in mind regarding Alabama’s gun laws.
    Any restrictions on our right to bear arms are subject to strict scrutiny; there’s no way in hell that ALDOT’s BS policy would pass that, even if it were valid. (This amendment passed November 2014.) On a related note, that strict scrutiny amendment will eventually lead us to the promised land of constitutional carry.

    I do a lot of driving here, and I stop at a lot of rest stops. I have never left, nor will I ever leave, my gun in the car because of that stupid, extralegal, fucking sign.

  14. yeah, i’m of the mindset of ust opening the truck door and watering the asphalt. if no sees the dinghy, the charge won’t float

  15. If you want to delete a painted sign spray paint will work, but you are likely to be noticed and have to deal with the enforcers of the bureaucratic BS. Egg white soaked paper towel slapped on it will rot the paint, and by the time the rain and time carry away the paper towel the paint is gone.

  16. It’s time for a little civil disobedience. If 20 people walk up to a cop and show that they are CC, nothing will happen. If 50 walk into a station, same thing. If hundreds mail aldot their photos, same thing!

  17. When we, the gun carriers, violate the law, we are fined or jailed. When the government violates the law, there is a lengthy process just to get them to correct their actions. There is no punishment. There seems to be hardly any accountability.

    This fact alone, is the reason why tyranny exists in these United States. Until we are all yoked equally. All we have are, as the philosopher Carlin put it, is privileges.

    • “Our Lives, our FORTUNES and our sacred Honor.” [emphasis mine]

      The 2A rights groups in Alabama need to come together and fight this as one and stop acting like individual villages of native Americans. Look what happened to them!

  18. How about this: The next time the AL Legislators meet the make a law that any time that any bureaucrat, in their state government, makes a law that conflicts with what the legislature intended, they are fired immediately and banned from working for the State of Alabama in the future. They could also add that any fines, fees or legal costs that the State of Alabama had to pay to enforce these illegal laws or fight them in court would be the financial responsibility of the bureaucrat responsible for making the illegal statute and enforcing it. Wouldn’t hurt to have some protests with signs like “John Cooper, Director of ALDOT, is responsible for keeping you from defending yourself at our State Rest Stops by making and enforcing illegal laws at YOUR Rest Stops.” Or something similar to that. That might put him on the hot seat and get the Governor or somebody in the Leg so step in and do something.

    • Gatha58,

      While your idea is fantastic, I’ll tell you why it will never happen. The thousands (and possibly 10s of thousands) of state employees who are the subject of your proposed law are a large voting bloc. No state legislature is ever going to alienate a large voting bloc like that, especially when doing nothing (which keeps that large voting bloc happy) does not cost them votes.

      This is why you never see governments shrink. In this day and age of razor thin margins in elections, no political party wants to turn away between 1% and 3% of voters … who just happen to be government employees. In other words government employees are simply an extension of welfare and political parties don’t want to lose the welfare voting bloc.

      • However, these Big Cheeses at the top of the State Government food chain are a very small number compared to the rank and file, right ? My guess is that and egotistical A-hole like the bureaucrat in this article are probably disliked by many of the people that work under his authority. They might like to get rid of him.

  19. Just carry your gun anyway. No one is there to stop you.

    I have successfully carried a firearm onto multiple areas controlled by DHS where they have actual police officers searching your vehicles. Not once or twice either. I mean everyday for a year. They never once found my gun. So how would anyone know you have a gun at some rinky dink rest stop in Bumfvck, Alabama?

  20. Nice writeup. Yeah rest stops in any state are the worst-I’m a long way from Alabama but good luck changing it…

  21. Glad I live in North Carolina:
    As provided in G.S. § 14-269.4(5), it is lawful for any person to carry a firearm openly, or to carry a concealed handgun with a concealed carry permit, at any State-owned rest area, at any State-owned rest stop along the highways, and at any State-owned hunting and fishing
    reservation. N. C . Gen. Stat. § 14-415.11(c).

  22. “… but there is a limit to what one can do alone.”

    I would think Alabama has a State Rifle Association or other state-wide gun rights group. Yes, there is a limit to what one can do alone, which is why we have groups of people organized for a common cause.

    • BamaCarry has 11K members and is already in this fight, multiple petitions have been sent to the AG and he has returned them saying no violation found. Lawsuits to follow.

  23. Any law that contravenes the protections of the US Constitution and BoRs are UNCONSTITUTIONAL, UNLAWFUL, and UNENFORCEABLE BY AN HONORABLE COURT! (Just get the judge ON RECORD IN COURT that he/she swore an oath of fidelity to the US Constitution upon assuming their office.)

    There are multiple court precedents to that effect.

    Sue the scumbags for KNOWING, OR SHOULD HAVE KNOWN, VIOLATION OF CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER COLOR OF LAW.

    Use 14th Amendment to pierce their customary “qualified immunity.”

    Re. 18 USC Sections, 3, 4, 241, 242
    42 USC Sections 1983, 1985, 1986

  24. There are also a series of establishments in the Montgomery area with illegal “no gun” signs, provided by the local sheriff and endorsed by the local district attorney. I believe in the Clanton area. They specifically ban “open carry”, and threaten that violators will be prosecuted. When I informed the manager of the local McDonalds that the signs carried no force of law, I got the same Fudd response as above. When I asked who provided the signs, they could not answer.

    I gave up, and just stopped going to that exit on the interstate. Or went to Whataburger instead because they had no such signs.

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