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Sheriff OK with revised gun bill

A compromise bill agreed upon by Alabama sheriffs and the NRA is one that can be lived with, said Covington County Sheriff Dennis Meeks Monday.

A public hearing Thursday outlined the compromise version of Senate Bill 286. The bill must now pass the House floor, but it would likely preserve a sheriff’s right to deny a gun permit if the sheriff has a public safety concern about an individual.

Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith, who has represented the Alabama Sheriff’s Association’s charge against the original bill that would allow for less-stringent restrictions on where a firearm can be carried and would allow those without concealed carry permits to transport guns in their vehicles, said the compromise allows those involved in the debate to meet in the middle.

“We all had the same goal – to protect Second Amendment rights of citizens and still protect everyone’s safety,” Smith said. “Trying to balance those two things is a difficult task. The House has been very helpful in trying to accomplish that. In the end, the NRA agreed with everything we are asking for, and we agreed with them. We came out with something that I think is good for everyone.”

The bill, in its original form “was a knee-jerk reaction to incidents like the Sandy Hook shooting,” Meeks said. “Personally, I don’t think there is anything broke in our system (of issuing gun permits) now or broken so bad that should’ve brought the bill to light in the first place.

“SB 286 – in its original form – was very dangerous for law enforcement and to the public, and this was a compromise,” he said. “There’s only a few days left in the session, so if (the revised bill) doesn’t pass, I’m OK with that because nothing changes in the way we do things.”

Provisions of the compromise bill include:

• Individuals without a concealed carry permit would be allowed to carry a pistol in their car if it is unloaded, locked away, and out of reach of the driver or passenger.

• Changes Alabama from a ‘May Issue’ to a ‘Shall Issue’ state. Sheriffs will be required to provide documented reasoning for denying permits, and individuals may appeal the issuing decision.

· Requires employees to have either a valid concealed carry permit or a hunting license to carry a firearm onto a work site. Additionally, the employee cannot have been convicted of a violent crime, have been involuntarily committed, or have past incidents of domestic violence.

· Provides employers with immunity against lawsuits in the event an employee brings a weapon to work and an incident occurs.

· Expands the definition of “crimes of violence” to include all Class A felonies and Class B felonies that involve serious physical injury, distribution and manufacture of a controlled substance and crimes of a sexual nature involving children under 12. Individuals convicted of a “crime of violence” cannot own a firearm in Alabama.

The legislation was described by lawmakers as including “much-needed reform of the current Right to Carry statute and protects the fundamental right of self-defense for those carrying a firearm to and from work.”

The Alabama Sheriffs’ Association and the Alabama District Attorneys’ Association, who were initially against SB 286, said their concerns were addressed in the new version of the bill, but the BCA still remains opposed.

The bill will now move to the House floor for a vote.