A task force appointed by the Alabama Legislature plans to hold a public hearing on the state’s gun laws next month, with every option — looser laws, tighter restrictions or no changes at all — on the table.
The hearing was in the works before the Sunday night shooting that killed 59 people in Las Vegas, said state Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, who chairs the Task Force on 21st Century Gun Laws. He said he wants Alabamians to understand the implications of gun laws the state has already passed.
“We don’t want to wait until a tragedy and hear people say, ‘I had no idea that was legal,’” Farley said.
The planned public hearing is the latest development in a slow-simmering dispute between law enforcement officials and the gun-rights group Bama Carry, which wants to get rid of the law requiring people to get permits before carrying concealed firearms.
Bama Carry scored a major victory in the Legislature in 2013, when lawmakers passed a sweeping gun bill that allowed people to carry clearly visible, holstered pistols in most public places. Bama Carry activists argued that state law had never really blocked people from openly bearing arms in public. In practice, before 2013, wearing a sidearm in a store or on a public street would often lead to a citation for disorderly conduct or a similar offense.
In recent years, gun-rights advocates have pushed for more changes, attempting to remove restrictions on carrying guns in the passenger compartments of cars. This year, at the urging of Bama Carry, Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, introduced a bill that would have removed the state’s requirement to get a permit from a local sheriff before a person can carry a gun concealed under a coat or in a purse.
Sheriffs and police chiefs largely opposed that change, arguing that the permits help block unstable people from carrying weapons. Gun-rights groups said sheriffs were in it largely for the revenue that comes with the permits – typically around $20 per gun owner per year.
From allies to rivals
A House committee put the permitless-carry bill on hold this spring, saying they wanted to hear from Farley’s 18-member task force before acting on the proposal. The Task Force on 21st Century Gun Laws is charged with reviewing other states’ gun laws and their effects on public safety. Bama Carry activists say the move was simply an attempt to shuffle the bill off to committee and kill it.
Farley tells a different story. A retired police officer, Farley said he joined Bama Carry more than a year ago, hoping to find consensus between the group and the law enforcement officials who opposed their bills.
“These Second Amendment groups are getting farther and farther apart, and they don’t need to be,” Farley said.
Farley spoke at a Bama Carry convention before this year’s legislative session. He claims he discussed with the group his idea of a task force to review gun laws, and got their support. He said he was surprised, a few weeks later, to find that the group approached another lawmaker to introduce a permitless carry bill.
Eddie Fulmer, president of Bama Carry, said the group never liked the task force idea.
“I thought that committee was created to delay movement on gun rights in Alabama,” he said.
Fulmer said his group has more than 1,000 members, including technically, Farley. But Farley has been persona non grata with Bama Carry since this summer. One member even posted what Farley claims is a threatening message on the group’s Facebook page.
“Those two are lucky to be dealing with a civil group,” a group member posted beneath a photo of Farley and fellow House member Allen Treadaway, R- Morris. “If they had to deal with our founding fathers who would have demonstrated the 2nd in action, they’d be garden fodder by now.”
Farley provided The Star with copy of the post Wednesday. Attempts to reach Treadaway, who chairs the committee that postponed the vote on the permitless-carry bill, were unsuccessful.
Fulmer said Farley misinterpreted the post.
“He took that as a threat on his life,” he said. “I don’t see how he could do that.”
Farley’s committee was supposed to produce a “comprehensive report” on gun laws by Oct. 1. The group didn’t make that deadline, but did get a briefing on Alabama’s gun laws last month. Farley said many Alabama residents aren’t aware of what state laws allow. For instance, he said, minors can’t buy rifles and shotguns but can carry them in public — even to the school bus stop, if they want.
“We need to look at all the laws on the books to see if we need to loosen them up, tighten up or leave them alone,” Farley said. “If people want a change, let’s put it to a vote — not let six or eight people on a committee decide.”
Bama Carry’s president said he doesn’t expect much change to come out of the task force.
“I’m not too worried about what they’re going to do,” Fulmer said.
Bump stock debate
Two gun rights groups — the National Rifle Association and Alabama Gun Rights — have seats on Farley’s task force. The rest of the panel consists of lawmakers and officials from education and law enforcement. There’s no seat for Bama Carry — or for any group dedicated explicitly to gun control.
Farley said the group has not yet discussed the “bump stock,” a gun accessory that can be used to convert a semi-automatic rifle into a weapon that is, in effect, fully automatic. The shooter in the Las Vegas attack had guns fitted with such devices, according to news accounts, and seems to have obtained them legally.
Fulmer said he once owned a bump stock, but found it useless and sold it. He said he doubted a ban on bump stocks would stop a determined mass shooter.
“The guy broke law after law,” Fulmer said of the Las Vegas shooter. “It’s against the law to murder somebody, right?”
Democrats in Congress said Wednesday that they’d propose a federal ban on bump stocks.
Roy Moore, the Republican candidate in the Dec. 12 special election for Senate, said in a prepared statement Wednesday that it was “unfortunate” that “liberals try to use these tragedies politically, to extend more government control.”
“New laws will never stop the hardness of the criminal heart, but they may keep law-abiding citizens from defending themselves,” Moore was quoted as saying in a prepared statement sent by campaign officials.
Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, said he supports the Second Amendment, but believes it’s time to have a conversation about the bump stock bill.
“The conversation about bump stocks and whether they should be legal or not is a real one and it’s time we started to listen to each other instead of running to different corners," Jones was quoted as saying in a press release Wednesday.
Farley’s task force meets again Oct. 24. No specific date has been set for the planned November public hearing.