Although Alabama’s new law, which allows people to carry concealed handguns without a license, didn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, license sales began to decline last year, reducing the money county sheriffs had to fund their get surgeries.
The Alabama legislature established a grant program to compensate counties for the expected loss of money. But sheriffs and county officials have doubts about whether the grants will be adequate or sustainable.
To receive a grant, sheriffs must demonstrate a loss of revenue from permit fees, and the law sets 2022 as the base year. County officials say using last year as a base will underestimate casualties.
“Handgun licensing revenue began to decline the moment the ink dried when Gov. Ivey signed it into law (in March 2022),” said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama. “So we would use a reduced number as the base year. That would make the makeup money a lot smaller.”
Another concern regarding the scholarship program is that it is scheduled to be phased out in four years, according to the bill approved by the legislature. Brasfield said counties are working with lawmakers to introduce a bill to address their concerns. He believes this can be achieved in the upcoming legislative session, which begins in March.
“If we’re going to have to apply the law the way it’s written today, then we’re talking about a big hole in budgets at the local level in, I think, every county,” Brasfield said. “I’m pretty confident we won’t have to live with the language that passed in the last session.”
Jimmy Lambert, executive director of the Alabama Sheriffs Association, said handgun permit fees help support sheriffs’ operations in a variety of ways, including purchasing vehicles and equipment. He said sheriffs must turn to their county commissions to replace the dollars if the grant program isn’t enough.
“This story is really statewide,” Lambert said. “Surprisingly, there are some counties that haven’t had that big of a drop. But the overwhelming majority do and it has influenced them.”
Alabama counties, which responded to inquiries from AL.com, reported that permit sales fell more than 30 percent last year compared to the previous year.
Tuscaloosa County: 2021, 16,244 permits sold, permit fee income of $746,800.
2022, 11,145 permits sold, permit fee income of $429,300.
Mobile County: 2021, 31,736 permits sold, $1.5 million in permit fee income.
2022, 20,893 permits sold, $854,000 in permit fee income.
Baldwin County: 2021, 16,185 permits sold, permit fee income of $849,965.
2022: 10,923 permits sold, permitting fee income of $467,775.
Chilton County: 2021, 4,451 permits sold.
2022, 2,747 permits sold; Drop in sales of $114,000.
Elmore County: 2021, approx. 7,500 permits sold.
Approx. 5,100 permits sold in 2022.
“We in Tuscaloosa County are fortunate that the county commissioner covered the loss of revenue within our budget,” said Ron Abernathy, Tuscaloosa County Sheriff. “Unfortunately, many other smaller agencies across the state will be badly affected. In addition to funding staff, it will also affect the purchase of equipment. The new law creates additional dangers for our law enforcement officers in policing our communities.”
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said his office uses about 75 percent of the proceeds from the concealed carry permit to fund training such as B. Registration fees and travel expenses for MPs and other staff to attend training programmes.
“There are a lot of training opportunities out there that we think are very important to equip our employees with what they need that is offered in other areas,” Jones said. “And of course that comes at a cost. As such, these fees generated by the permit were very, very important in helping us ensure we are providing the best possible education to our employees, our board deputy sheriffs officers and everyone else.”
The License Elimination Bill, sponsored by Rep. Shane Stringer, a Mobile County professional enforcement officer, eliminated non-concealed carry permits. It made permits optional.
Jones, who has been a sheriff for 24 years and is president of the Alabama Sheriffs Association, said concession sales in Lee County have declined about 35 to 40 percent over the past year. Jones said he expects the decline to continue. He said he and other sheriffs encourage gun owners, particularly those who regularly travel to other states, to obtain permits or maintain their current permits.
“If you’re traveling out of state, it’s probably to your advantage to continue to get a concealed carry permit in the state of Alabama because other states will recognize that permit under the reciprocal agreements that we have with over 30 states in the country,” Jones said . “And in some areas, you can also be breaking the law if you don’t have that permit from your home state of Alabama.”
Alabama lawmakers considered bills to remove the concealed carry license requirement for about a decade before finally passing the law last year. According to the National Rifle Association, Alabama was the 24th state to pass such a law. Georgia followed suit last year, bringing the total to 25, the NRA said.
Proponents of the so-called “constitutional carry” legislation said the requirement to pay a fee and undergo a background check to carry a concealed handgun violated the 2nd Amendment. Alabama law already allowed the open carry of handguns. But carrying one out of sight, such as under a jacket or in a purse, required a permit.
A permit was also required to carry a pistol in a vehicle unless it was unloaded and in a locked compartment. Proponents of lifting the permit requirement said it would defeat the purpose of carrying a gun in a vehicle for protection.
Opponents of the change, including the Alabama Sheriffs Association, said requiring a background check and permit is an important tool for law enforcement.
Other opponents of lifting the permit and background check requirements, including America’s Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense group, which had volunteers in the state house to campaign against the law, noted that among states, Alabama ranks high in deaths from takes gun violence.
The grant program established under the new law is called the Local Government Pistol Revenue Loss Fund. Lawmakers initially provided $5 million for the fund. For three years, the law requires paying enough into the fund to have a balance of at least $2 million at the beginning of each fiscal year. The bill states that the scholarship program will end after four years.
“We’re still working with our lawmakers now to try to revise this a little,” Lambert said. “But if you get a feel from the sheriffs, the amount of money the grant will provide will not be anywhere near enough to adequately offset what the sheriffs will lose.” And it’s not open-ended. It ends eventually, so it will still be the void that needs to be filled.”
Although people can still get permits, and some will do so to ship them to other states, Brasfield says there’s no reason to expect anything other than a continued decline in permit sales. He said the target during the upcoming session will be legislation to change the base year for determining loss of permit revenue to 2021. As for a permanent revenue stream to replace permit fees, Brasfield said it’s too early to talk about.
“I suspect the Alabama legislature will be reluctant to impose any new fee or raise a fee at the local level to replace that money,” Brasfield said. “I think our task for this coming session is to try to set the base year and look at the next couple of years. And I think at that point we can see where we are.”
Jones said the goal is to develop a program that offers some security and stability.
“What we’d like to do is work with our lawmakers to see if we can have a more permanent solution and one that has adequate funding that would support sheriffs, particularly in the counties that are seeing the biggest revenue declines.” are,” Jones said.
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