Russell, Lee County sheriff's say Alabama gun bill threatens public safety

Ridiculous. Crazy. Insane. Dangerous. Those are among the words Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor used to describe the proposed Alabama legislation that would expand the number of places where guns can be carried and narrow law enforcement's authority to use discretion when issuing permits.

Taylor and Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones were among the approximately 50 sheriffs out of 67 in the state at the Alabama Sheriffs' Association winter conference this week in Birmingham. On Wednesday, the association unanimously voiced opposition to Alabama Senate Bill 129 and House Bill 55.

The bills would take away a sheriff's discretion to issue pistol permits, the association contends.

The language in the state's Open Carry Law would change from "may issue" to "shall issue" as long as the applicant passes an instant background check.

The permit process isn't the only possible change that bothers Taylor and Jones.

"It would prevent churches and business owners and property owners from saying, 'I don't want someone to be able to carry a pistol on my property,'" Taylor said. "What kind of crock is that?"

Public demonstrations and sporting events also would be spaces that would have to allow concealed pistols, Jones said. And a gun could be in a motor vehicle without a permit, he said.

"It threatens public safety," Jones said.

The bills also would make law enforcement officers civilly liable for $10,000 to $100,000 if they improperly arrest someone on a gun charge, Taylor said. That would cause officers to shy away from legitimate arrests, he said.

The proposed legislation is an overreaction to fears that the federal government will tighten gun control in the wake of December's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Taylor said.

"This is going a little overboard," he said. "There is going to be no law that says we're going to come and take your guns away. But the public is afraid that's fixing to happen."

The sheriffs support the Second Amendment as much as anyone, Jones said, but they also support the other amendments.

"These bills would give rise to circumstance with unintended consequences," he said.

Jones noted that the associations representing the Alabama district attorneys, county commissions and police chiefs also oppose the bills.

Alabama state Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 129.

"I want to make sure every person in Alabama has the right to defend themselves," Beason told WBRC in Birmingham, "and you cannot trade liberty for security."