A change in Alabama law that was a decade in the making starts today: No permit is required to carry a concealed handgun or to carry one in a vehicle.
The Legislature passed a bill to repeal the permit requirement in March and it takes effect with the start of the new year. The bill had previously failed year after year, partly because of opposition from the Alabama Sheriffs Association.
Sheriffs said the requirement for a permit and a background check was a safeguard for the public and for law enforcement in a state with high levels of gun violence. Permit fees also help fund sheriffs’ operations.
Those in favor of the repeal said the permit requirement undermined their 2nd Amendment rights. They named the legislation the “constitutional carry” bill and noted that more than 20 other states had passed similar laws.
Those arguments finally prevailed this year, with the House and Senate passing the bill by wide margins, mostly along party lines, with most Republicans supporting it and most Democrats opposed. Gov. Kay Ivey signed it into law the same day it passed.
“The most important thing in this bill is that Alabamians have regained some of the freedoms that the founding fathers would have never given up,” said Eddie Fulmer of Northport, a retired firefighter who is president of BamaCarry, a not-for-profit gun rights organization that fought for the bill for years. “And while it’s not everything we would like to have, it’s a large step in the right direction.”
Alabama gun owners can still choose to get concealed carry permits from their county sheriffs. Some do that to carry guns in other states that recognize permits issued in Alabama.
Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham, who opposed the bill, said he worries that people will misunderstand the scope of what changed.
“Some people, now they feel they can go anywhere with a gun like the wild, wild west,” Cunningham said. “And you can’t. They’ve still got certain restrictions. Like being able to go into governmental buildings. Going into schools. Going to athletic events and things of that nature. We’ve got to make sure that we educate people. I’m scared that people think now they can just do whatever they want to with their guns.”
Cunningham said he is concerned that gun violence could worsen in a state with one of the highest rates of deaths from guns. He noted news reports that UAB Hospital has added trauma surgeons because of a sharp increase in gunshot victims.
“It’s stuff like that that I’m looking at,” Cunningham said. “Now you put more guns on the street, you’re going to see more and gunshot wounds.”
Fulmer said other states that passed bills repealing permit requirements have not seen increases in gun crimes.
“It’s an anti-gun talking point,” Fulmer said. “Everybody is going to die. Everybody is going to be carrying guns. No, they won’t. No, they won’t.“
“I do think that if there are any more guns carried it will be by law abiding citizens who have no propensity to do crime,” Fulmer said. “They simply want to exercise their right of self-defense for themselves, their family and others that might be around them.”
Rep. Shane Stringer, a Republican from Mobile County and career law enforcement officer, sponsored the bill, along with Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, who had sponsored it for about a decade. Stringer said he was opposed to ending the permit requirement until talking to sheriffs in other states who said it had not caused problems.
“Pretty much everyone I spoke to told me there were no major changes,” Stringer said.
Other than repealing the permit requirement, the law does not change restrictions on guns, Stringer said..
“It does not affect who can and cannot carry weapons,” Stringer said. “People that are prohibited now will still be prohibited when this law takes effect. The places that you cannot carry still are the same. Private businesses and companies can still regulate their property and their business. You still cannot carry in courthouses, mental institutes, school facilities.”
Stringer worked for the Mobile County sheriff’s office for 18 years and was police chief in Citronelle and Satsuma. He returned to the sheriff’s office after his election to the Legislature but lost his job because of a disagreement with Sheriff Sam Cochran over the permit legislation. Cochran opposed the bill. Stringer said they remain friends despite the disagreement. Stringer is now an investigator with the police department in Jackson, a city in Clarke County.
Stringer noted that Alabama is an “open carry” state, meaning it was already legal to carry a handgun uncovered in public. The permit requirement applied if the gun was not visible, such as under a jacket or in a purse, or in a vehicle.
According to Fulmer, the freedom to carry a handgun in a vehicle without a permit is one of the most important changes. Before today, a person without a permit could carry a pistol in a vehicle only if it was unloaded and locked in a compartment. Fulmer said that defeated the purpose.
“An unloaded pistol ain’t worth a flip,” Fulmer said. “You can have the same effect with an unloaded pistol as you can with a three-hole brick. You can throw it. And our founding fathers intended for us to carry those for self protection if we felt it necessary.”
Fulmer said the old law did not stop criminals from carrying guns concealed or in cars.
“So, whatever law that we put into effect will not affect a criminal anyway,” Fulmer said. “They’re going to carry regardless.”
Sheriffs and others who favored keeping the permit requirement said it was an important tool for taking guns off the street, including firearms that are used in crime. Police could charge a person with a misdemeanor for carrying a gun concealed or in a vehicle without a permit.
Some lawmakers who supported the bill said a deciding factor was a new tool for law enforcement. In 2021, the Legislature passed a bill authorizing lifetime pistol permits. That bill also required the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to set up a database of people prohibited from carrying guns because of a criminal conviction or a mental illness adjudicated in court. Stringer said the database allows police to readily determine if a person is on the prohibited list. Violators can be charged with a felony.
Before establishment of the database, Stringer said it took more time for police to run a criminal history background check to determine if a person was prohibited from carrying a firearm. He said those were not typically done during traffic stops.
The law says people must declare that they are carrying a concealed gun or a gun in a vehicle if asked by police. It says police can temporarily take custody of a weapon to check if it is stolen or if the carrier is on the prohibited list. Police must return the weapon if there is no arrest.
Fulmer said BamaCarry members oppose that as an unreasonable search and seizure prohibited by the 4th Amendment and would like to see it repealed.
“If I get stopped for rolling through a stop sign, there’s no reason he needs to know that I’ve got a rifle in my truck and I’m going hunting or I’ve got a pistol,” Fulmer said. “There’s no reason for him to know that. It’s not going to make him any safer or anything. And a criminal is not going to tell you that anyway.”
Sheriffs have depended on revenues from pistol permits to help fund their operations. Some opponents of the repealing the permit requirement denounced the bill as “defunding the police,” borrowing a national political talking point Republicans have tried to use against Democrats.
Although people can still buy concealed carry permits, sheriffs and county officials said permit purchases declined in 2022, even before the new law took effect.
In response to those concerns, the Legislature created a grant program to reimburse sheriffs who demonstrate a loss of funding from permits. Some have questioned whether it is adequate. It calls for annual funding of up to $5 million. But the law says the grant program will be repealed after four years.
“We have agreed to reevaluate that year by year to see if changes need to be made to that amount in that grant process to make sure that they continue to get the financial support that they need,” Stringer said.
The National Rifle Association supported the bill to repeal the permit requirement and endorsed Ivey in her bid for reelection because of her support of the legislation. The NRA said in April that Alabama would be one of 24 states to allow carrying a concealed handgun without a permit. The other states were Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Fulmer, 67, said he always carries a gun but has never had to use one for anything but target practice. He said he does not think most people will notice any change under the new law but said it could help reduce crime.
“It may have an effect on crime, and that remans to be seen,” Fulmer said. “Because I think the more people that carry the more deterrence that we will have in our society.”