Rep. Harbison discusses support of constitutional carry bill HB44

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Rep. Corey Harbison (Cullman Tribune Files)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – In the new legislative session for the Alabama House of Representatives, many leaders across the state have been divided over a proposed constitutional carry bill. HB44 was introduced to eliminate the need for permits to carry concealed firearms in Alabama, and the debate between supporters and opponents has been fierce.

HB44 was introduced by Rep. Andrew Sorell of Mussel Shoals and lists 38 other representatives as co-sponsors, including Cullman County representatives Randall Shedd, Scott Stadthagen and Corey Harbison. Changes the bill proposes to existing laws include:

  • Removing “pistols or firearms of any kind” and air guns from the list of weapons that a person can be prosecuted for unlawful concealed carrying
  • Removing “any facility hosting an athletic event not related to or involving firearms” from     the list of places where knowingly carrying a firearm is prohibited (this includes professional athletic events as well as events sponsored by public or private elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools)
  • Removing the statement, “In the trial of a person for committing or attempting to commit a crime of violence, the fact that he was armed with a pistol and had no license to carry the same shall be prima facie evidence of his intention to commit said crime of violence.”
  • Amending Section 13A-11-90(b) to state, “A public or private employer may not restrict or prohibit the transportation or storage of a lawfully possessed firearm, pistol or ammunition in an employee’s privately owned motor vehicle while parked or operated in a public or private parking area. A public or private employer may not restrict or prohibit the transportation or storage of a lawfully possessed firearm if the employee possesses a firearm, other than a pistol, which may be lawfully used for hunting in Alabama” so long as the employee satisfies all established criteria except for holding a concealed weapon permit
  • Amending multiple subsections from, “This section shall not be construed to limit or place any conditions upon a person’s right to carry a pistol that is not in a motor vehicle or not concealed,” to, “This section shall not be construed to limit or place any conditions upon a person’s right to carry a pistol”

Critics of the bill claim that this legislation introduces more danger to the jobs of law enforcement. Officers such as Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran worry that a permitless Alabama could result in someone who is currently disqualified from carrying concealed being able to do so, with civilians or law enforcement being injured or killed as a consequence.

Additionally, gun control advocates fear that removing the permit requirement from athletic events will result in more firearms present when tempers flare over foul plays or referee rulings. The Gun-Free School Zones Act prohibits the carrying of firearms in school zones, though people who are licensed to carry firearms in the state the school zone is located are exempt from this restriction, and individual schools are not prohibited from enforcing their own rules about guns on school property; however, the bill does not include any provision for additional funding to buy metal detectors for schools that want to enforce strict no-gun policies.

Supporters of the bill claim that sheriffs who oppose it are more concerned about the loss of revenue from people paying for the permits, saying that the monetary incentive to oppose this bill is similar to past policies that allowed sheriffs to pocket excess money from jail food budgets. Concealed carry permits in Alabama range from $5 – $25 depending on the county, and there were more than 1,085,000 concealed carry permits active in Alabama in 2021 (source: https://www.gunstocarry.com/concealed-carry-statistics/#info). Without factoring in the fees of lifetime concealed carry permits, the state received between $5,425,000 – $27,125,000 during that year.

However, most supporters simply state that this bill stops the government from infringing on an individual’s constitutional right to arm themselves. Rep. Harbison gave this as his main reason for co-sponsoring and spoke with The Tribune about what this bill would mean for Cullman County and for Alabama as a whole if passed into law.

“This is something that we’ve pushed for in the last several years through the legislature. I’ve talked with the sheriff and worked with him on it–I actually sponsored a piece of local legislation last year that would’ve allowed the sheriff to give free pistol permits to any Cullman County citizen who qualifies for a permit. However, there’s a little bit of a difference in what this (HB44) does,” Harbison explained. “This bill will allow any Alabamian who can legally possess and carry   a firearm to carry one concealed; as long as they can legally carry a firearm, they can carry concealed while they remain in Alabama.”

When the subject of permit fee revenue loss came up, Harbison said he felt that most gun owners would still choose to purchase permits for interstate travel. “Now, some of the sheriffs are of course going to push back, in my opinion, because of the pistol permit money, but I do think that a lot of Alabamians will still come buy permits because this law is only good in Alabama,” he stated. “A lot of other states will honor Alabama pistol permits, so if you’re traveling in Georgia or Florida or Tennessee or Mississippi, then those states will honor your Alabama permit. However, if Alabama implements constitutional carry and you travel without a permit to another state that does require a permit, you could potentially have issues with that. So I think a lot of people will still buy a permit for that simple reason of having it when they travel.”

Harbison continued further by saying, “This bill doesn’t change anything about the process to receive a permit in each county, and honestly it actually clears up a lot of confusion. See, Alabama is an open-carry state already, so if you’re walking down the sidewalk and you want to have a firearm on your side visibly, you can do that now without a permit. But the question we’ve seen from law enforcement over the years is once you get in your vehicle, although it may be visible on your side, it’s concealed from anyone else around you because they can’t see into the vehicle. You know, an officer could make an arrest and charge you for carrying without a permit if they wanted to.”

When asked about the benefits this bill would have for his constituents if passed into law, Harrison said, “I think the benefit comes with the people who currently open carry and don’t have concealed permits. They can legally carry their firearm without paying a fee. I know there’s a question of whether a fee is constitutional or not because of the Second Amendment, so this will allow the people of my district to carry their firearms without paying for a permit if they choose not to get the permit.”

On the topic of drawbacks or negative consequences to the bill, Harbison expressed that he felt the negatives are far outweighed by the positives. “Some of the sheriffs argue that we’re taking funds from their offices, and maybe there will be a loss, but there’s no real way of knowing how much this will take from each sheriff’s office. And there could be negative consequences, obviously, any time someone has a gun, but I truly believe that a criminal is going to be a criminal. Right now, they don’t care if they have to have a permit or not–if somebody wants to carry a gun and they’re a criminal, they’re going to have a gun. I don’t know the statistics right off, but I would say a super majority of the crimes committed with pistols right now in the state of Alabama are committed by people who can’t even currently carry a firearm, who aren’t even legally allowed to carry one. I don’t think it’s going to have an impact or cause more gun violence or anything like that.”

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Heather Mann

heather@cullmantribune.com