State Rep. Phillip Ensler (D-Montgomery) has filed a series of bills in the upcoming legislative session designed to cut down on gun crimes in the state.
House Bills (HB) 36, 37, 48 and 49 have all been pre-filed for Alabama's upcoming regular legislative session. All four bills are meant to add changes to Alabama's firearm laws, all to add additional protections for citizens and law enforcement.
When speaking to 1819 News, Ensler said he filed the bills after having many conversations with constituents and law enforcement, all of whom expressed a desire for additional protective measures when dealing with gun violence.
"I have said this and will say it over and over again: I know that laws alone cannot stop every incident or every act of violence," Ensler told 1819 News. "It certainly starts at home. It starts with a strong moral foundation. It starts with making good individual choices, but as a lawmaker, my constituents have pleaded with me to at least do something. And that something is some of these bills that I've consulted law enforcement on, and they feel very strongly that these can be helpful."
Both HB36 and HB48 would prohibit citizens from possessing the necessary components to convert a semi-automatic firearm into an automatic or machine gun. The prohibitions provided in the bills are currently federal crimes and punishable only by federal law. Ensler said a state prohibition would allow state and local police to enforce the ban instead of relegating enforcement to the feds. If passed, the law would not apply to those already federally licensed to possess automatic firearms and their components.
HB37 would create the Voluntary Alabama Firearms Do-Not-Sell List, allowing individuals to suspend their ability to purchase a firearm by voluntarily adding their name to the list. If a person misrepresents their identity or the identity of the person placed on the list, they are subject to a $6,000 fine and up to one-year imprisonment.
Likely the most contentious of the four bills is HB49, which would create a statewide "Red Flag Protective Order Act." HB49 would allow courts to issue one-year red flag protective orders if the court determines a subject poses an immediate threat to themselves or others. If the courts determine a person is a threat, they can order the subject to surrender all weapons and ammunition to law enforcement.
The requirements for determining if a subject poses a threat are lengthy and contain rigorous scrutiny of any claims made by a petitioner. It also includes an appeal process and an annual revisitation of any red flag order.
The bill models itself after existing laws that prohibit the subject of a domestic violence restraining order from possessing firearms.
"Look, we have all the time temporary restraining orders. We have emergency orders that courts can issue at times when there really is some sort of public threat or individual. I wouldn't propose anything that I thought ran afoul of the Constitution that in any way infringed on the Second Amendment or infringed on due process," Ensler outlined. "So I feel very strongly that the proposal is consistent with the Constitution."
He continued, "I've similarly heard from law enforcement, but also from families of domestic violence victims or victims themselves who say that there are times they are terrified, that their partner or spouse may threaten to harm them and harm them with a firearm, and this is just a way to protect that individual. Or, in a situation, and we've seen this tragically across the country, where someone does beforehand make a threat where they say they're going to shoot up a public place or their workplace. This type of law would allow, temporarily, law enforcement and the courts to just put a little bit of room in between the person that is making those threats or poses a danger to others and save some lives."
While Ensler anticipates debate and disagreement from some of his colleagues, he expressed an ardent desire to address concerns while the bill works through the legislative process. He also emphasized that the red flag bill should transcend partisan politics and focus on protecting lives.
The bill will undoubtedly face some opposition from conservative lawmakers, as has been the case with similar laws across the country. Critics of red flag laws have often pointed to possible abuses of such laws and how they could be used to target individuals without due process.
According to Ensler, the provisions and processes in the bill should provide sufficient protection for someone who may be unjustly targeted by the legislation, preventing a person from using the law to strip gun rights from someone due to a personal vendetta.
"I have the utmost faith and trust in our judges here in the state," he said. "And look, if they ever do anything wrong, then they're accountable to the voters, so there are mechanisms in place to curb any sort of issues with that. But I'm not really worried about that. I think the most important thing is that we do something that law enforcement has another tool and certainly for individuals that do feel threatened, and then let the courts make that decision."
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