With the onset of constitutional carry in Alabama, some counties fear revenue decrease without the fees associated with pistol permits. County officials across the state claim they have already seen a decrease in funding due to this bill, passed in this year's legislative session.
However, the law does not go into effect until the beginning of 2023, causing some skepticism about those claims.
During an Association of County Commissioners of Alabama (ACCA) conference, some county commissioners claimed revenues had already dropped before the bill became law.
Governor Kay Ivey signed House Bill 272 (HB272) into law in March. It allows Alabamians to carry a concealed pistol on their person without acquiring a permit, but it doesn't take effect until Jan. 1, 2023. The bill has some stipulations and contains an opportunity for sheriff's offices to apply for grants to make up for lost revenue. The grant program has $5 million allocated for that potential loss. Many sheriff's departments in the state have relied on those funds for safety equipment, vehicles and firearms for decades.
"Our sheriff bought vehicles through his pistol permit fund so that deputies could get out and have good vehicles, but now that's going to cut back," Houston County Commissioner and deputy Ricky Herring said. "And it doesn't take long to put 200,000 miles on a vehicle in a 575-square-mile county traveling from call to call throughout the county and traveling and doing what you're supposed to do as law enforcement officers."
Herring said he heard sheriffs say they would lose 20% to 30% of their annual revenue.
"Now the counties are having to make up the commissions and make the difference in the sheriff's office budget," Herring said.
Sonny Brasfield, the executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said the funding issue had become a serious problem for counties. He said there will likely be a bill to seek more funding in the 2023 regular session.
"We're working on legislation to amend the law that was passed last session," said Brasfield. "That law has in it a provision to try to reimburse at least partially for the lost revenue, but we don't think that law appropriates enough money to make counties and sheriffs whole, and we also think the process in it for the reimbursement needs work as well."
State Rep. Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals), who sponsored the bill and owns two gun stores, supports constitutional carry and argued pistol permits should have never been a source of income for sheriff's offices in the first place.
"The system should've never been set up to where we were funding our law enforcement by selling people their constitutional right," said Sorrell. "That was a failure."
Sorrell said the U.S. Constitution is clear and that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
"So, the most important thing that the commissioner should be worried about is that they're following the Constitution because that's the oath of office that all of us take," said Sorrell. "Uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of Alabama. Every elected officer in Alabama takes that oath."
Herring said another issue with getting rid of pistol permits is that sheriffs don't have the ability to use their own discretion on who gets to carry a concealed firearm.
"I didn't like the idea of pistol permits being cut because it gives the sheriff in that county, who knows most of the folks in that county, the opportunity to say, 'OK, this person right here might qualify and is not a convicted felon. However, he's got some mental issues, and I'm not sure he should have a pistol permit right now,'" Herring added.
Herring said when a person has mental illness or dementia, family members can alert sheriffs about those issues if they believe the person is a danger to themselves or others. Without the discretion of the sheriff, he said there is no way for people with knowledge of a history of mental health issues to stop a person from legally carrying a firearm.
"It sort of takes that out of our hands now, and there's nothing you can do to try to regulate that," said Herring. "I think in the long run, it's going to hurt families, and I think before it's over with, you're going to have people that were harmed, assaulted or murdered because of their right to just have a firearm when they really don't need one."
Herring acknowledged that family members alerting law enforcement about someone being dangerous could be done with ill intentions. He said that's why he believes laws need to be stricter for those who report false information to law enforcement.
"I think if somebody accuses somebody of wrongdoing, and law enforcement finds out that person lied, they should be charged with the same crime they are accusing them of," said Herring. "You can't just go lie on somebody, and they get arrested, and you have no recourse. To me, it's just not fair."
But the funding issue will impact various counties differently, Herring said. As the law's implementation date approaches, Herring said he is trying to inform residents that they don't have to have a permit in Alabama, but they do in other states that require permits. People can still purchase permits in Alabama in order to cross state lines with their firearms.
"I think it matters where you are within the state," said Herring. "Some of them are getting hit worse than others. We are getting hit in Houston County, but there's more people getting them here because we are on the state line. But I think your centralized people that aren't on the state line are getting hit more."
Brasfield said counties are not as interested in creating new revenue-generating measures but want the wording in the legislation to match what was promised.
"Those advocating for the bill said consistently during the session that we were not going to lose revenue, which has turned out to be absolutely wrong," said Brasfield.
Sorrell said it is too early to determine if the law will make a difference in revenue since it doesn't go into effect until next year. He said states that previously passed a constitutional or "permitless" bill had seen changes in income initially.
"It's not uncommon for there to be a one or two-year dip in permit sales after constitutional carry is passed," Sorrell said. "However, over the long run, most of the 21 other states that passed constitutional carry before us showed the same or even a slight increase in the number of permits sold over a three to five or 10-year period in some cases."
In Alabama, permits allow citizens to carry their guns concealed, but no law prohibits openly carrying a firearm.
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