Firearm-free Frog Festival?

Cullman attorney Champ Crocker files BamaCarry suit against Sumiton over public records after guns banned from public event

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Cullman Attorney Champ Crocker (contributed) / BamaCarry logo (contributed)

SUMITON, Ala. – Cullman attorney Champ Crocker on Feb. 6, 2020 filed a lawsuit against Sumiton Mayor Petey Ellis on behalf of BamaCarry, Inc., a statewide pro-Second Amendment organization, over the City of Sumiton’s exclusion of firearms from its annual “Frog Festival” celebration, which is held on public property.

BamaCarry describes itself as “Alabama’s only ‘No Compromise’ gun rights group,” and says on its website, “We believe in gun rights the way the founders of our Country and the original authors of our State Constitution intended. We believe they meant ‘shall not be infringed’ and that every law abiding citizen has the right to bear arms in defense of self and state, and our goal is to return to those principles. Because of this, we support and are actively working towards Constitutional Carry in the State of Alabama.”

On the first Saturday of each October, the City of Sumiton hosts the Frog Festival, which it describes as “a fun-filled Saturday and a great way to welcome (autumn). Arts & (Crafts) vendors from across the south have booths to display and sell their goods. There are also food vendors that take the event to the next level.”

According to the complaint filed by BamaCarry through Crocker, “During the October 6, 2018 Frog Festival, the City of Sumiton prohibited firearms and posted signs to that effect, contrary to Alabama law, specifically, Ala. Code § 13A-11-61.3 – which resulted in an individual petitioning the Alabama Attorney General to intervene against the City of Sumiton in February 2019. Because the 2018 Frog Festival was over, the Attorney General corresponded with the City of Sumiton and took no further action.”

Additionally, “In October 2019, the Plaintiff and its members learned the City of Sumiton attempted to circumvent Alabama law and to prohibit firearms at the 2019 Frog Festival. The Plaintiff and its members also learned the City of Sumiton may have leased out municipal property to vendors to circumvent Alabama law. Out of a concern that its members and other law-abiding gun owners were targeted, the Plaintiff wrote to the City of Sumiton requesting records regarding any such leases under the Alabama Open Records Act. Specifically, the Plaintiff requested these public writings:

  • All documents or records related to any lease(s) involving any past, or future Frog Festival.
  • All documents or records related to public notices about any past, or future Frog Festival.
  • All documents or records of all tax incentives, tax abatements, grants or
  • other economic incentives to benefit any private entity or individual,
  • related to any past or future Frog Festival.
  • Minutes of all meetings about the requested items.”

 

Receiving no response from Sumiton, BamaCarry filed a second request Jan. 7, 2020. When almost a month passed with no response to the second request, the organization filed the suit.

Crocker has represented BamaCarry statewide for a year, dealing with Second Amendment issues.

“We were told that they said no guns at all can be brought to the Frog Festival, which is held on the public streets of Sumiton the first Saturday in October every year,” Crocker told The Tribune Wednesday. “Alabama is an open carry state, and certainly it’s a state that allows conceal and carry as well, with a permit.”

After touching on the issues of the 2018 festival, Crocker continued, “In 2019, we were told that the police force in Sumiton was to arrest anyone who was carrying a gun, clearly outside a municipality’s authority to regulate guns or the carrying of guns. Under Alabama law, that responsibility belongs exclusively to the Legislature. And the Legislature trumps any political subdivisions of the state, such as a county or a city. You can’t have different gun laws in 67 different counties or hundreds of different cities.”

Crocker said the City, which could not ban guns in a public space, leased that public space to private vendors who then issued the gun ban.

According to the attorney, “We believe that is just an end-around Alabama law.”

Crocker said that no-gun signage put up before the 2019 festival was taken down, but said, “We never received the information requested under the Alabama Open Records Act, which says public documents are available.”

BamaCarry is seeking copies of the vendor leases and other documents related to the festival.

“Not about guns”

According to Crocker, “BamaCarry reluctantly filed the suit, and wanted to give the (City) every opportunity to comply with a simple public records request. The (City) of Sumiton failed to do so, and so we filed this lawsuit on Feb. 6, seeking a court order that these documents related to the Frog Festival should be public, and seeking disclosure of them because it’s in the public’s interest to know what’s going on in Sumiton.

“I’ll say this: even though my client is a Second Amendment advocate group-the Second Amendment is their reason for being in existence-this lawsuit is not about guns. This lawsuit is about transparency in government.”

Sumiton has 30 days to respond to the suit. 

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com