MONTGOMERY — Alabama voters will go to the polls in November to decide whether gun ownership is a "fundamental" right.
Critics of the proposed amendment say gun rights are already enshrined in both the Alabama and U.S. Constitutions — but supporters say the measure’s "fundamental" wording does have meaning.
"If a new interpretation of the Second Amendment is released by the Supreme Court, those residing in Alabama would be subject to the protections in Alabama law," said Michael Sullivan, the Alabama lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.
Since the 2012 school shootings in Connecticut, Alabama lawmakers, anxious about the possibility of further regulation of guns, have gone exactly the opposite direction, proposing several bills designed to loosen restrictions on firearms. Last year, lawmakers approved a sweeping set of changes to gun laws, curbing the power of sheriffs to deny concealed-carry pistol permits and opening many public places to people who carry a holstered pistol openly.
House Republican leaders also threw their weight behind the "fundamental right" amendment, an amendment that, if approved, would subject gun restrictions to the "strictest scrutiny" in Alabama courts. The amendment, sponsored in the Legislature by Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, was part of the 2013 agenda for the House Republican caucus.
Attempts to reach Jones for comment were unsuccessful. The NRA's Sullivan said the purpose of the bill was to protect the "individual right" to bear arms that was upheld in a 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008. One of the issues in that case, District of Columbia v. Heller, was the question of whether the right to bear arms was a personal right, or a right "of the people" connected to service in a militia, something mentioned in the Second Amendment.
Sullivan said the Alabama amendment would protect that personal right, at least in Alabama courts, even if the U.S. Supreme Court changes its interpretation of gun rights.
Louisiana passed a similar amendment in 2012. According to the nonprofit Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, passage of the amendment led three ex-felons to challenge Louisiana's ban on gun ownership by people with felony convictions. Louisiana’s state supreme court upheld the ban.
Alabama's amendment passed both houses by overwhelming margins.
Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, was one of the few to vote against the bill. Singleton said he supports the right to own a gun. That right is already in the Second Amendment, he said. Singleton said he didn't see a need to add wording to what's already in the U.S. and Alabama constitutions.
"I just don't see a need for it in the state constitution,” he said.