On Wednesday, the Alabama House of Representatives voted to pass controversial legislation that would largely align Alabama’s criminal possession of a firearm with its federal law equivalent.
House Bill 392 (HB392) is sponsored by Cynthia Almond.
“This adopts the federal law on gun possession as it is currently,” Rep. Almond explained.
Rep. Mary Moore asked, “I don’t understand why we need this bill. Why do you think we need to be redundant passing this law?”
Almond explained, “Federal law says that if you have ever been convicted of a felony, you can’t carry a gun. Alabama law says that if you have ever been convicted of a crime of violence, you can’t carry a weapon.”
Moore said, “This is a redundant bill that does not need to be clarified.”
Almond replied, “There are some felonies that are in the gap.”
Moore said that instead of debating this bill, the Legislature should take up her assault weapons ban.
“We passed enough laws that cover what you try to do,” Moore said. “We ought to be focused on true laws.”
“AR15s are weapons of war that were made for the battlefield of Vietnam,” Moore said. “They shoot up babies so bad you can’t even identify them.”
Almond explained, “theft and possession of drugs are two” of the felonies where a felon is prohibited from ever possessing a firearm ever again’ but not prohibited under current Alabama law.
“Our state and local law enforcement do not have the authority to arrest them, even though they are already in the prohibited person’s database,” Almond explained.
Rep. Laura Hall asked, “You don’t have to have a permit to carry a gun, so how do you get that data?”
Almond said, “If they have ever been convicted of a felony, they are in a database.”
Hall said there are other disqualifiers for gun possession besides being convicted of a felony.
“We are not dealing with any of the other items in this bill,” Almond said, “We can see that they are in the database, but we can’t arrest them (for being a felon in possession of a gun).”
Almond explained that this bill changes state law to mirror federal law.
Almond cautioned that this only has to do with felons.
“We are not at all changing or addressing any of those others,” Almond said.
Rep. Matt Simpson explained, “A lot of time, the federal government and federal prosecutors say they are not going to enforce this. All this does is give (state) prosecutors the authority to.”
Almond said, “We are not changing any rights, but we are allowing our police and prosecutors to make arrests and prosecutions.”
Almond said the current law “puts our law enforcement in predicaments on the streets.”
Rep. Prince Chestnut said, “I am going to support your bill.”
Rep. Pete Rehm asked, “Has anyone asked if the NRA or any Alabama gun rights organization endorsed this bill.”
Almond said, “We have worked with the NRA.”
Rep. Rehm asked if a woman in her 70s defends herself from a home invasion with a gun, but she had a drug possession conviction fifty years ago, would she be arrested under this?
Almond said that if she had a felony conviction and has a gun, she is already breaking the law.
“We would be basically enforcing federal law,” Almond said.
Rehm said, “In my scenario, the lady defended her home from a home invasion. Right now, the state or local law enforcement cannot arrest her. “
Rehm said, “My issue is that the federal government needs to be enforcing their own laws.”
Almond replied. “If your position is that felons should have guns, that has not been the case for over 60 years.”
Rehm responded, “In all that time, the state of Alabama has not done anything to enforce this federal law.”
Rep. Corey Harbison said, “I come from a law enforcement background myself, and I am not for putting good people in jail because they made a mistake 20 years ago. This example right here is why we have a separation between federal and state.”
Harbison said, “The NRA is not in support of this bill. They are not against, but they are not taking a stance.”
“We do not have to align our state law with federal law,” Harbison said. “People make mistakes in life. They can be rehabilitated.”
Almond said, “There is a process where someone can have their gun rights restored.”
Harbison warned that there will be “unintended consequences” if this passes. “I, as law enforcement, do not want to take them to jail.”
Moore said, “We as a body should not care what the NRA thinks.”
Rep. Alan Treadaway said, “There was a time where we routinely could make these arrests, and federal authorities would come get them. Now, they are pressed as hard as we are. People don’t realize how bad it is out there now with violent crime. There are now 500 less officers in Jefferson County alone.”
Treadaway blamed “the demonization of police over the last ten years.”
“I have talked with them (the NRA) several times,” Treadaway said. “If they were opposed, you couldn’t answer your phones.”
“Your DAs want this. The judges want this,” Treadaway said. “The (prohibited persons) database will work ten times better than any permit.”
Treadaway said he talked with one assistant DA in St. Clair County who has arrested one person “nine times for breaking into vehicles, has a gun, and you can’t arrest him.”
Almond said, “This bill was brought to me by Tuscaloosa DA Hays Webb. He is a former Marine. He is pro-law and order, and he is pro second amendment. The person who brought this to me is about as a pro second amendment as possible. He is a big gun guy.”
One Republican Representative said, “I don’t trust the federal government as far as I can throw them.”
Rep. Tim Wadsworth warned that the federal definition of a firearm under federal law doesn’t include shotguns or sporting rifles, but that could change.
Almond said that this bill would not change state law if federal law changes as it is written as of January 1, 2023, and cannot change even if they change their definition of a firearm.
HB392 passed the House 64 to 36, with Democrats voting in favor and nearly as many Republicans opposing the bill as supporting it. The bill now moves to the Senate for its consideration.
Thursday will be Day 23 of the 2023 Alabama Regular Legislative Session.
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