FAIRHOPE — The Fairhope Police Department hosted a town hall event Thursday to explain the state’s new constitutional carry law and answer questions from citizens.
Dozens of people attended the event at the Fairhope Civic Center and listened to a presentation by representatives from the police department, the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney’s Office.
Alabama’s constitutional carry law went into effect on January 1. It allows citizens to carry a loaded or unloaded firearm without a permit. There have been critics of the law, particularly within the law enforcement community. Concerns include loss of funding for sheriff’s offices and the inability to remove firearms from subjects that officers feel could be a risk to themselves or others.
Chief of Police Stephanie Hollinghead said since the law went into effect, her office has gotten several calls from citizens asking questions about what is and is not allowed. That’s why she felt it was important to host the town hall on the issue.
Citizens asked questions concerning the legality of having firearms in vehicles, training for those who carry firearms and the age at which citizens can legally carry firearms.
Capt. Andre Reid, with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, told the crowd there are some reasons to continue purchasing a pistol permit.
"You can carry a firearm, on your person, concealed or in your vehicle, and for the most part, you don't need one," Reid said. "A lot of people have asked if you can carry anywhere. Government buildings, police stations, schools, and school events and a couple of other places. Those places that have historically not allowed them still will not allow them."
Baldwin County has a law prohibiting firearms on school grounds. However, Alabama code does not prohibit firearms on school property, so Reid said residents should check local laws before making a judgment call.
The law also requires firearm carriers to inform an officer if they have a gun on them, but only if the officer asks.
"If they ask, just know you have to declare if asked," Reid explained. "Just know that during that investigation, however long that may be, they can take your firearm until that investigation is over."
Reid explained the reason for a firearm being taken could be to check if it is stolen or if the carrier is on the prohibited list. He said the firearm must be returned to the carrier if an arrest is not made. Another part of the law prohibits gun carriers from touching their firearm during a traffic stop unless the officer asks the subject to do so.
"If you violate any of those things, you could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor," added Reid.
Reid suggested that anyone getting pulled over by an officer readily make information about firearms in the vehicle available to the officer.
During his presentation, Reid also explained that owners of private businesses can still regulate what occurs on their property or within their buildings, and employers may have limitations on firearm possession that may affect employment.
"Just because you don't need a pistol permit doesn't mean you can bring it everywhere," said Reid. "The law did change that you can take your pistol and leave it in your vehicle."
Employers can prohibit firearms inside buildings but not inside an employer's vehicle, Reid said. If an employer prohibits an employee from having a firearm in their vehicle, Senior Trial Attorney with the Baldwin County District Attorney's Office Patrick Doggett said that is a civil action case and not a criminal case.
Doggett said some believe doing away with the permit requirement could limit the ability to uncover further crimes. However, he said he does not foresee a widespread issue when it comes to fighting crime.
"That's a little bit about what we're going to have to shake out. Probable cause and finding some facts can lead to the discovery of other crimes," Doggett said. "Good police work is good police work, and I don't really think this will impact the ability of law enforcement to solve crime."
However, Reid said in the past, the permit requirement has worked as a tool for law enforcement.
When answering questions from the crowd, the panel also explained those under the age of 21 are still required to have a permit, and there is no restriction on the number of firearms or the amount of ammunition inside a vehicle.
Hollinghead said the Fairhope Police Department hopes to make town halls event a quarterly opportunity to connect with the community and to address pressing issues.
"This way, we can educate and just have open discussions with our community," said Hollinghead. "It's just bridging that gap. There is a lot of growth, and a lot of people from other states moving in. We want them engaged with our department. We're a community of one, and we want to be that way. The only way we are going to do that is build our relationships with our community."
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