Alabama on New Year’s Day became the 25th state to eliminate the requirement for gun owners to obtain a handgun permit.
But law enforcement officials say the new law raises questions including whether guns are banned in churches and government buildings. Another question, do gun owners need to purchase an Alabama permit if they are traveling to a nearby state with their gun?
These questions and more will be addressed during a 1-1/2 hour community meeting at Fairhope Civic Center on Thursday. The meeting, which will include a 45-minute presentation followed by a question-and-answer session, is the first in a series of meetings that Fairhope city officials envision as a series of meetings focused on “relevant” and contemporary topic.
“Because this is the first month of the new gun laws, we thought we’d provide the information and answer the questions so everyone knows what they can and can’t do,” said Sheri Swartz, spokeswoman for the city of Fairhope. “We thought it would be a good opportunity to sit down and discuss what it relates to.”
The meeting will be chaired by three agencies: the Fairhope Police Department, the Baldwin County Attorney’s Office and the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office.
It starts at 18:00 and lasts until 19:30. The session is free to the public to attend, and gun safety information and resources will be available.
Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack said there was confusion about where guns remain banned despite the new permitless carry’s approval.
“I think the biggest confusion that we’ve seen is that even though Alabama has now become a permit-free state, there are still areas where a person is not allowed to carry a firearm,” Mack said. “Some examples include government buildings, law enforcement buildings, federal properties, schools, and private businesses that follow a reporting process.”
The permitless-carry law came into effect after the Alabama state legislature passed legislation ahead of last year’s primary that gun rights groups like the National Association of Gun Rights have long endorsed.
Proponents have referred to the legislation as “constitutional” bearing, reflecting the view that the Second Amendment to the US Constitution does not restrict the right to bear arms.
But opponents, including a bipartisan coalition of county sheriffs, argued they were concerned about the public safety impact of removing gun permits. Without the permits, they say, there is no longer a vital screening tool for people who own guns. Without this tool, sheriffs argue, law enforcement officers’ work becomes less safe.
The gun permits allowed gun owners prior to the enactment of the Unlicensed Carry Act to carry a handgun in their vehicles, jackets, or otherwise concealed. Alabama has long been a state where gun owners can carry a gun openly and prominently. The state routinely ranks in the top 10 in the US for gun ownership.
A permit typically costs a gun owner $20 per year.
Sheriffs have also argued that the loss of permit fee revenue also raises public safety concerns. Proceeds were used to purchase equipment used by law enforcement, capital improvements in prisons, food purchases, and training.
Supporters of the law say it will provide financial support for sheriffs and point to a new fund to help with lost revenue. The fund was backed with $5 million provided by the fiscal year 2023 general fund, which began October 1. The fund is said to have at least $2 million to support sheriffs who are losing revenue due to a lack of permit applications.
Sheriffs say much more money is needed to make up the deficits. They will address the legislature at the spring session to draft legislation that will help close the deficit.
Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said the biggest issue at this session will be determining the baseline year for revenue loss in each county.
“We believe the revenue generated in 2021 should be the basis for determining the impact of lifting the Alabama handgun license requirement,” Brasfield said. “The current law uses 2022 as the base year, although purchases of handgun permits dropped significantly on the day the law was signed in spring 2022.”
In fact, since the second half of 2022, some counties have seen declining revenue. In Mobile County, Sheriff Paul Burch said his agency received nearly $800,000 in permit fee revenue last year, a significant decrease from the $1.2 million or more they earned in the previous year.
Financial issues aside, Burch said it was “a bit too early” to assess the public safety implications of permit-free wear.
“I’m sure we’ll have data in the first quarter to see what impact it’s had other than financially,” he said.