AG: County can’t deny right to carry

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 10, 2014


A recent opinion from Alabama’s attorney general over firearms at polling places was a major topic of discussion at Wednesday’s Covington County Commission meeting, as next week’s primary runoff election nears.

State AG Luther Strange recently handed down an opinion stating that county commissioners do not have the authority to ban firearms at polling places, adding that designation does not classify the locations as courthouse annexes – where both concealed and open-carry firearms would automatically be banned. Strange issued the opinion at the request of officials in Chambers County, where the issue arose during the June 3, primary election.

County attorney Tom Albritton told commissioners Wednesday that the commission actually could ban firearms at the two polling places it “owns,” but would have no control over gun rules at the other 24 locations. Those 24 locations, Albritton said, are owned by municipalities, churches or private citizens, with those owners having the final say in whether open-carry guns are allowed on site. The one exception to that rule seemingly, are schools, where carrying a firearm in any way is already illegal.

“It’s my understanding that this applies to open-carry weapons; not concealed weapons,” Albritton said. “It’s also important to point out the attorney general’s opinion is not law, although it is usually a very good guideline.”

Commissioners ultimately decided Wednesday to create two signs, one for each county-owned polling place, stipulating that open-carry weapons will not be allowed. Commissioners also agreed to make Strange’s opinion available, via mail, to the owners of other polling places.

Covington County Probate Judge Ben Bowden said the decision will be made by the owners at each individual location.

“I’m not sure why we would want to (ban guns),” Bowden said. “We haven’t had any problems. Open carry has been the law of the land for some time; it’s not new. But, some people might find it intimidating, and that’s one issue.”

Albritton said what has changed with recent gun legislation is where open carry is allowed, affirming that final decision must be made by individual property owners.

“You can’t decide that for (property owners),” he said. “Again, this is for open carry only. This changes nothing in respect to concealed weapons.”

Commissioners said the letters would be mailed out as soon as possible in order to get the information to polling places with as much time left before the election as possible.