The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

July 27, 2013

Sheriff still has 'discretion' with state's new gun bill

By Jean Cole

— When Alabama lawmakers proposed a new gun-rights bill this year that said county sheriffs “shall” issue concealed-carry permits to applicants, many law enforcement officers in the state bristled.

Under Alabama law, county sheriffs decide whether to grant applications for permits to carry concealed weapons.

Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely and others worried Senate Bill 286 — which proposed changing the law’s wording from sheriff’s may issue to sheriff’s shall issue —would require them to issue permits to people who are mentally ill or violent but have never been charged with crimes.

Blakely joined other county sheriffs, police chiefs, district attorneys and members of the Business Council of Alabama in lobbying state lawmakers to revise the bill.

Lawmakers listened to some of their concerns before passing SB 286, which repealed 10 sections of the state code relating to firearms.

Blakely now feels more at ease. And while he still opposes some parts of the gun bill, he will enforce it because it is the law, he said.

“This law is nothing like the original bill,” the sheriff said. “One of the things they (lawmakers) did was to spell out the criteria under which I can refuse to grant a permit.”

The law stipulates that sheriffs can deny permits to people who have been committed to a mental facility, who the court has deemed mentally incompetent and who have been involuntarily committed for mental illness or drug addiction, the sheriff said.

“I still have a lot of discretion,” Blakely said. “The law says if I have reasonable suspicion I can deny the permit request but I’ve got to be able to give a reason, in writing. If the matter is appealed, the case goes to District Court and I have to be able to articulate why I should not give the person a permit,” the sheriff said.

He feels confident the District Court judges would seriously consider the sheriff’s denial of a permit.

“I think most judges in most situations would back us up,” Blakely said. “The bottom line is we want to sell permits to people if they need them because that helps generate revenue for the sheriff’s office. But, we also have a responsibility to ensure safety.”

The sheriff’s office issued more than 1,000 permits last year, netting the office more than $15,000, Blakely said.