Police preparing for new 'open carry’ law
by Tim Lockette
Jul 31, 2013 | 8071 views |  0 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print
(Photo: Seth Wenig/Associated Press/File)
(Photo: Seth Wenig/Associated Press/File)
MONTGOMERY — As of Thursday, there's very little Anniston police Chief Shane Denham can do to keep Anniston residents from walking down the street with a holstered pistol. Or a loaded rifle, for that matter.

But he can hope people will keep their weapons at home.

"If we get 40 people walking around with guns, our phones are going to be ringing like crazy," Denham said. "We don't need that."

Denham and other local law enforcement officers have spent the last few weeks gearing up for the implementation of Alabama's new "open carry" gun law, which goes into effect Thursday. Passed earlier this year, the bill sweeps away cities' regulations on open carrying of firearms, makes it easier to carry a gun in a car and limits sheriffs' ability to deny concealed pistol permits.

Advocates and critics of the law disagree about where and when it was openly legal to carry a gun before Thursday. But law enforcement officials agree that under the new law, carrying a pistol in a holster will be legal in most public places.

Calhoun County's sheriff thinks that's a bad idea.

"There is a myth, an utter myth, that the presence of a firearm alone will make you safer," said Sheriff Larry Amerson, president of the National Sheriffs' Association and one of the new law's most vocal critics.

Amerson said that under prior law, carrying firearms openly in public places was largely acceptable under state law, though it was prohibited on other people's private property. Most cities, Amerson said, also had some sort of ban on openly carrying firearms.

The new state law invalidates those city ordinances, Amerson said, and allows people to carry firearms at businesses unless the owner expressly says no.

Amerson said that if the bill leads to more people openly carrying weapons, it will likely result in more shootings. Gun owners often think having a weapon will deter attacks, he said, but law enforcement officers see it differently.

"There are people that are deranged, people who are high on drugs and alcohol, who are not afraid of the mere presence of a firearm," he said.

Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge says concern about the new law has been blown out of proportion.

"If they're going to carry it, I want them to carry it in the open, where I know they have it," Partridge said.

Partridge said carrying a firearm was already legal in Oxford, where open-carry advocates would gather at Starbucks with pistols on their hips.

"If somebody's going to bring a gun to a fight, they're going to bring a gun to a fight," Partridge said.

In neighboring Anniston, Denham said he's less concerned about the possibility of armed conflict and more concerned about the effect the change will have on police officers.

Before the law, he said, there was no city ordinance banning people from openly carrying pistols — but police had the ability to stop and question those who did. There was an ordinance that banned people from carrying rifles or shotguns.

The new law renders Anniston's rifle-toting ban ineffective, and it creates a "rebuttable assumption" that armed people in public are not breaking the law — effectively limiting officers' ability to question them.

Denham said the law would seem to allow someone to carry a rifle in a city park. He said it's not clear whether that rifle would have to be carried over the shoulder, or could be in someone's hands. He worries that gun-rights advocates will push the law to its limits, spawning calls to police from frightened residents and placing police officers in a tough legal situation.

"My biggest concern is that very new guy in the department will try to do the right thing, and will get into a situation he's not ready for," Denham said.

Denham said his department has been briefing officers on how the new law works, and he's hoping most gun owners will opt not to test it.

The new law's primary author said he won’t be among the people who carry a weapon openly in public Thursday. Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, said he has a permit to carry his gun concealed.

“I’m a big self-defense proponent,” he said. “One of the things a pistol does is level the playing field.”

Beason said he wrote the bill to bring clarity to the state’s gun laws. He said gun ownership is a constitutional right, and the right to carry a weapon is implied in that right.

Beason has long been critical of Alabama’s concealed-carry laws, which required people to get a permit to carry a concealed pistol and allowed sheriffs to deny permits to people they considered a risk, even if they didn’t have a criminal record.

That law, Beason said, allowed sheriffs to deny permits to people they simply didn’t like. Under the law taking effect Thursday, sheriffs have to show a reason why they’ve denied a permit, and applicants have a right to appeal.

The new law still allows sheriffs to deny permits to people with criminal records. Amerson said it also denies permits to people who’ve been committed to mental institutions against their will — if they used a gun in the incident that got them committed.

The old law, Amerson said, let sheriffs screen out people who seemed angry or mentally disturbed but didn’t have that sort of official history.

“Under this law, if the guy from Sandy Hook applied for a permit, I’d have to give it to him,” he said, referring to the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school last year. “If he walked into our office looking bizarre and acting bizarre he’s still entitled to a gun permit.”

Supporters say the new law clarifies state gun rules, but Amerson said the law has created a new set of complex rules for police and gun owners to master.

Among other things, he said, gun owners are barred from bringing weapons to events with a fence and a ticket booth, but allowed to carry openly at sports events without those barriers.

The bill still bans guns at courthouses and at city halls when council meetings are in session. The Alabama State House, where the Legislature meets, is a gun-free zone, but Beason said it wouldn’t be any less safe if guns were allowed.

“I don’t think it matters,” he said. “If someone was out to get me, they don’t have to get me at my State House office. They could get me in the parking lot.”

Beason said he didn’t believe the new law would lead to an increase in armed conflict.

“I’m not concerned about it at all,” he said. “Alabamians are not more prone to violence than anybody else.”

Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

Comments must be made through Facebook
No personal attacks
No name-calling
No offensive language
Comments must stay on topic
No infringement of copyrighted material

Friends to Follow

Today's Events

event calendar

post a new event

Friday, April 25, 2014