Eight of the top 10 states that suffer the highest levels of gun violence are also, not coincidentally, the states that rank among those with the top 25 weakest gun laws.
Alabama is nestled into a comfy third position on this list.
In a report released last week by the Center for American Progress, staggering statistics created a serious case against firearm safety in Alabama, from the fact that “Alabama experienced the fourth-most gun deaths per capita of the 50 states in 2010” to the sad reality that in our state, a person is killed by a gun every 11 hours.
Against the national average, these statistics only seem more perturbing.
Alabama has a gun-murder rate 65 percent higher than the national average, and we actively export crime guns at a rate that is over double the national average because of the lax gun restrictions enacted by our state government.
Ironically, two days after this report made national headlines, the Alabama State Senate passed a bill that takes these already lax restrictions and makes them even less effective.
The bill, brought forth by sponsor Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, has been hotly contested as concerns loom about the limits that the bill would place upon law enforcement and businesses to restrict gun access.
Sen. Beason’s bill would, in effect, create new free and lifelong permits – separate from concealed carry permits – that would allow citizens to carry pistols in their assigned vehicles contingent on their passing of a state-administered background check.
Of course, this change does not seem dangerous in the least, however, it is what is hidden in this bill that could propel Alabama from its ranking as the state with the third highest level of gun violence to the top of the chart.
As Beason put it, this bill seeks to bring Alabama gun laws into line with the state’s “spirit” as an open carry state.
Essentially, hidden within this bill are provisions that would seek to limit police rights and attempt to move Alabama from its current position as an Anomalous Open Carry State – one that allows for open carry, but retains restrictions that deter citizens from performing the act – to a more dangerous level as a Permissive Open Carry State – one that would allow for the carrying of a gun in plain sight for anyone without a criminal record without permits or license.
For instance, Beasons’s bill states that carrying a visible, holstered firearm in a public place does not coincide with the felony of disorderly conduct, a specification that restricts police ability to identify and control potentially dangerous situations.
In addition to limiting their powers against open carrying of firearms, the bill sharply curtails the powers that county sheriffs maintain to limit the concealed carry of handguns as well.
First off, the time period that sheriff’s have to decide whether or not to issue a personal concealed carry permit would be cut to only 30 days, a condition that promotes potentially faulty background checks. Even if an individual is denied, under this bill, they could appeal the ruling in District Court, undercutting the power of the police.
Finally, permits would now last for five years, rather than one, which further restricts police jurisdiction and ability to make frequent updates and checkups.
What’s worse? This is a substitute bill. That’s right, the original bill was even more extreme.
Originally, Sen. Beason was fighting for the open carry of firearms in vehicles without any form of permit.
However, regardless of all of these alarming and staggering changes, the truly horrifying part of this bill lies in the changes it institutes to Alabama’s concealed carry policy, taking us from a “may-issue” to a “shall-issue” state, meaning that sheriff’s will no longer have digression in the issuing of permits. Rather, if a person meets criteria laid out by the law, regardless of the personal opinions or better judgments of the police, they will be given a firearm permit.
Our legislators are currently gambling the safety of our public for the benefit of the NRA and are dangerously and hastily loosening our gun control laws due to President Obama’s impending firearm restrictive legislation. In the face of the recent gun-related tragedies that have rocked these United States, I cannot help but be disgusted and afraid.
After all, eight of the top 10 states that suffer the highest levels of gun violence can also be denoted as states among the top 25 weakest gun laws. If this bill is signed into law, I expect to see Alabama jump to the top of both lists.
Maxton Thoman is a freshman majoring in biology. His column runs weekly on Mondays.