By Jean Cole
Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely joined sheriffs, police officers, district attorneys and business leaders across the state Tuesday in opposing a proposed gun bill awaiting action by the House of Representatives.
Blakely told The News Courier he did not speak during Tuesday's public hearing in Montgomery but attended in support of those opposed to the bill.
Senate Bill 286, sponsored by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, confounds many in the state who are charged with ensuring public safety. Despite the opposition from seasoned law-enforcement officials, the state Senate approved the bill 27-5 on April 4. (District 2 state Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, who also represents Limestone County residents, co-sponsored the bill.)
Members of the Alabama Sheriff’s Association, the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police, Alabama District Attorneys Association and the Business Council of Alabama oppose the bill.
“What mystifies me the most is that Alabamians have as much if not more freedom that any other states regarding the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” Blakely said after Tuesday’s hearing. “We don’t want to make gun laws restrictive, but it is already easier to get a (concealed carry) permit here than in most states. We are very pro-Second Amendment. We offer classes for gun safety and we are for using guns for personal protection, hunting and target practice. But, allowing firearms at public demonstrations could be an issue with public safety.”
He and other officials oppose the current bill because it would do the following:
• Grant people the right to obtain a free, lifetime, though revocable, permit to keep pistols in their vehicles at all times:
• Grant people the right to carry a visible, holstered pistol at public protests or gatherings without being charged with disorderly conduct;
• Grant workers the right to keep guns locked in their vehicles while at their jobs.
• Changing the wording of the current law from sheriff “may” issue gun permits to sheriff “shall” issue gun permits; grant permits for five years rather than one; and require the sheriff to issue a permit within 30 days, give the applicant a reason for any denial and give the applicant the right to appeal.
Blakely has said he does not oppose granting applicants who are denied permits the right to appeal. However, he does oppose the wording that the sheriff “shall” issue a permit. He said that deputies and other law-enforcement officials know of applicants who have exhibited dangerous behavior but have never been charged for such a crime.
He also questions the proposed “lifetime” issuance of a concealed carry permit for public safety reasons.
The president of the states Sheriffs Association, Marion County Sheriff Kevin Williams, has publicly stated the bill, which he has referred to as “the road-rage bill” would encourage violence by making guns easily available in cars and visible in public places.
Revisions may still be considered for the bill with seven days left in the legislative session.