An Alabama House committee killed legislation on Wednesday that would have added criminal penalties for violating a provision within the state’s new permitless carry law.
The vote by the House Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee prompted its frustrated sponsor to tell AL.com afterward that the supermajority GOP in Alabama is owned by the National Rifle Association.
“We have to figure out who we are serving,” state Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said. “Is it our citizens, or a special interest group that apparently won’t allow us to do any reasonable restrictions on firearms?”
He added, “To be honest with you, the NRA runs this building.”
State Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Birmingham and the committee’s chairman, disagreed and said there are occasions in which the GOP members of his committee will vote against legislation the NRA supports.
“A lot of folks are very serious about the Second Amendment and their right to bear arms,” said Treadaway, a former assistant police chief in Birmingham. “This argument comes up every time when there is, unfortunately, a tragedy. It’s tough depending on what side of the issue you are on. If you believe in the Constitution, it’s not a real issue. Folks are going to be sensitive about that and vote (in opposition to gun control).”
He added, “You might have a political organization that supports one side of the issue or the other, and that’s how they will vote. It’s not because they are being pressured … not everyone in that situation.”
The comments come after National Rifle Association boss Wayne LaPierre, during the NRA’s national convention Saturday in Indianapolis, warned that “gun-hating politicians should never go to bed unafraid” over their political careers, which he warned his group could end.
It also comes as Alabama Democrats pitch gun control measures that are unlikely to advance far. A group of Democratic lawmakers, in Hueytown this week, called on their Republican colleagues to pass “red flag” legislation in the wake of a mass shooting during a “Sweet 16″ birthday party in Dadeville on Saturday that left four people dead and over 30 injured.
Republicans say they are concerned about what they called the “politicizing” of the Second Amendment following a deadly shooting. The party’s leadership, including Gov. Kay Ivey, was also criticized on Wednesday by the gun control group, Giffords, for “ignoring” gun violence.
“I don’t know if there is any gun bill that could have prevented what happened in Dadeville,” Alabama House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainville, said. “We put money in for security in schools. We are spending more on mental health in this state than we’ve have before. At the end of the day, I don’t know if gun laws will change bad people.”
England, though, said even legislation backed by Democrats calling for “common sense” approaches are not going anywhere.
His latest measure – HB12 — aimed at making it a misdemeanor if, during a traffic stop, a person in possession of a firearm fails to inform a law enforcement officer that he or she has a concealed gun.
England said the legislation was needed because the permitless carry law the Alabama Legislature adopted last year included a provision of a “duty to inform” law enforcement about the presence of a concealed gun inside a vehicle during a traffic stop.
He said the law was toothless if penalties were not included.
“To be honest with you, going through the permitless carry law passed last year, there are obvious problems with it,” said England, sponsor of HB12.
“For whatever reason we left off a penalty,” England said. “When (the new law) went into effect this year, I worked with law enforcement officers and they asked if it’s enforceable or not since it doesn’t have a penalty associated with it. It’s almost like we’d prefer confusion.”
Treadaway said the permitless carry legislation was debated at length last year and is not in need of wholesale changes.
Alabama became the 25th state in the U.S. to adopt permitless carry – called “constitutional carry” by supporters – despite concerns expressed by many law enforcement officers including sheriffs who are typically strong GOP allies.
“That part of the bill was vetted in the Senate and House last year, over and over,” Treadaway said. “There were a lot of public meetings held on constitutional carry. That area is a concern to everyone in how you apply penalties. The committee felt here today they were not ready to move on it as written (in HB12).”
England blamed GOP lawmakers for not moving on anything related to gun-related safety.
“Anything like permits or background checks and things like that, or limiting access to trigger activators that turn pistols to automatic weapons, is for public safety purposes,” said England. “It’s not to restrict a responsible gun owner from owning a weapon. It’s to make sure we balance their rights with the public’s rights to be safe in going to class, to school, to church or a birthday party.”