The Senate Thursday evening voted to approve a sweeping guns bill that the sponsor says will clarify gun rights in the state and critics say violate property rights of business owners.
The upper chamber voted to approve a conference committee report on the bill 25 to 5, a report that included mostly technical changes. The House was expected to take up the changes to the bill late Thursday night. If the House concurs, the legislation will go to Gov. Robert Bentley for approval.
Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, said after the conference committee vote that the legislation would put Alabama “light years” ahead of where it is.
“When people realize the inconsistencies that are in the (current) law, they agree that these are things that needed to be addressed,” he said.
Among other provisions, the bill says sheriffs “shall issue” gun permits, changing current language that says “may” issue. However, the sheriff would be able to reject a permit if he or she had “reasonable suspicion” that the weapon might be used unlawfully or may not qualify for a permit, based on certain factors, such as mental illness or previous falsifications on gun permit applications.
The bill also allows employees to take firearms into the parking lots of their employers, provided they have a concealed weapons permit and the gun is locked and stored out of sight. Individuals without permits would be authorized to drive with a pistol in their car if it is unloaded, locked away and out of reach of passengers or drivers.
Employers are granted immunity against lawsuits in case an employee bring a gun to work and violence occurs. However, the Business Council of Alabama, which opposed the bill, said that protection did not go far enough, and sought “absolute civil immunity from civil liability” for businesses.
BCA was also critical of the parking lot provision, saying it encroached on private property rights. Bill Canary, the CEO and president of the BCA, said Thursday night the organization would weigh its future options.
“We now have to see what effect it’s going to have on both the workplace, and its full application around the state,” he said.
The legislation had the support of the National Rifle Association, which has pushed similar bills in other states. The Alabama Sheriffs’ Association, which opposed an earlier version of the legislation, dropped its opposition after the House made changes, including expanding the scope of reasons sheriffs could deny permits and dropping language that would allow lifetime gun permits.
As it has on most major bills introduced in this session, the Senate moved cloture almost as soon as the committee conference report reached the floor Thursday evening.
– posted by Brian Lyman