Two leading law enforcement agencies in South Alabama and the head of BamaCarry are all calling on lawmakers to make changes to Alabama’s new permitless carry law, which went into effect on New Year’s Day.
Mobile County Sheriff Paul Burch and Mobile Police Chief Paul Prine said during a joint news conference Wednesday that the new law is “ambiguous,” confusing for attorneys, and contains “varying degrees of punishment.”
They also said that it contains strange language. One example cited by Prine is a regulation that directs a motorist not to touch “a handgun” with their fingers after being stopped by a law enforcement officer.
“It’s weird that they put that in the law, that specific language,” Prine said. “For most of us, it’s common sense not to touch a gun when encountering a police officer. But someone said it should be part of the law and make it part of the violations.”
Prine said law enforcement officials remain concerned about whether firearms are allowed in or near schools, and he urged lawmakers to be clearer given the background to mass shootings in schools across the country.
“I would be a supporter of banning firearms on school property,” he said. “The fact that we are having this discussion today just tells you that there is a lot of misunderstanding (about the new law) and there is no clarity.”
Gun rights advocates also share concerns about the new law, although they disagree with law enforcement officials.
Eddie Fulmer, the head of BamaCarry — the Northport-based gun rights organization that joins other gun rights groups outside of Alabama to push for legalization of illegal carry — said he doesn’t support any language within the new law that he alleges that it allows law enforcement officers to confiscate another person’s gun during a routine traffic stop.
“We don’t feel that if you get pulled over a stop sign (for being run over), an officer should take a gun from you and do a (background check),” Fulmer said. “If you don’t tell them you’re carrying a gun, you’re committing a crime. We are not happy with that at all. We didn’t write that in there. Republicans wrote that, and we tried to get it out before it passed.”
The latest row over the new law comes after a meeting last month hosted by Fairhope officials and the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office to address confusion over the new law.
Alabama’s permitless-carry law was approved last spring ahead of the GOP primary, in which gun rights and Alabama’s passage of a permitless-carry law emerged as a key campaign issue. It was also approved over objections from law enforcement officials, particularly county sheriffs, concerned about public safety and loss revenues.
Fulmer accused former Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran, a Republican, of leading the opposition’s charge. Cochran, who retired last month, was replaced by Burch, his former captain.
Burch accused gun rights groups, some from outside Alabama, of pressuring lawmakers to support illicit carry.
“I’m a big supporter of the Second Amendment, but I think some common sense should be applied to it,” Burch said. “(Legislators) have never endured so much pressure to pass a bill (than they did in the last year).”
Burch said the Alabama Sheriff’s Association is seeking comment from Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office to clarify some of the issues raised by the new law. A spokesman for Marshall’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The sheriff’s office also called for state deputy Shane Stringer, R-Citronelle, to provide a response. Stringer did not respond to requests for comment. Stringer, a former Mobile County sheriff’s captain under Cochran, was demoted in 2021 for his role as the main sponsor of the Alabama State House for the permitless carry.
Burch also called the new database, which was unveiled last fall, “a joke.” Permitless carry advocates repeatedly touted the creation of the new database last year to track criminals who are not allowed to own a gun in Alabama.
Burch said the new database set up by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) includes only Alabama residents. He also said that there had been numerous cases of someone being denied a gun license because of mistaken identity.
“We had about 15 of those who aren’t banned in any form and their name ended up in the ban database,” Burch said.
Sheriffs also came under fire last year for emphasizing the loss of revenue from license waivers. Burch said the Mobile County Sheriff’s Department lost an estimated $800,000 in the second half of last year.
Related: Are Alabama Republicans defunding the police by supporting constitutional carry?
Fulmer cited the relatively new five-year pistol license as the reason. He also said most law-abiding gun owners would likely buy a permit in Alabama.
“I got a five-year permit, and most people I know are still buying permits,” he said.
Still, recovering lost earnings appears to be a primary concern for sheriffs. The Association of County Commissions of Alabama is working on a bill that would supplement lost permitting funding for sheriff’s departments.
The illicit carry issues also coincide with Mardi Gras, the annual street festival in downtown Mobile that often draws large crowds to its colorful parades and formal balls.
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Prine said he’s not overly concerned about more people carrying guns during this year’s carnival, but he has a warning for those who do.
“Criminals will carry guns regardless of what the law says,” Prine said. “I’m concerned if you come here and are involved with drinking there’s a chance you’ll get into an argument. They could find themselves in situations where they use their gun and face criminal charges.”
He added, “Don’t bring a gun to Mardi Gras in downtown Mobile. We will have officers at every corner of the parade route.”