By Donna Thornton/News Editor
Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin said he’s drawn fire for taking a stand against proposed “open carry” bills that would – among other changes – allow people to carry guns openly, and put anyone who challenges them in legal jeopardy.
Entrekin said he’s an avid gun collector, a National Rifle Association member, and supports gun owners’ rights.
“But these are bad bills,” Entrekin said. If passed, these bills would allow people to carry guns, even long guns, virtually anywhere – into a business, a restaurant or event such as First Friday – and property owners would not be able to prevent it. Anyone who tried to prevent someone from carrying a gun, even law enforcement officers, would be subject to prosecution and face penalties between $10,000 and $100,000.
The sheriff’s took his message to Connections, a weekly meeting of downtown Gadsden merchants at the Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts. He said the bills should be of great concern to business owners.
Under current law, businesses can post “no firearms” and if someone brings a gun into their business, the person could be charged with trespassing.
Under the proposed bills, Entrekin explained, that would not be the case.
Current laws allow the carrying of concealed weapons, but these bills would allow open display of guns.
“This would take us back to the 1800s,” said a business representative at the Feb. 20 meeting.
In addition, the bills would change Alabama from being a state in which a sheriff “may” issue a gun permit to a state in which the sheriff “shall” issue gun permits.
Entrekin said it would take away his discretion to deny a permit to someone he believed should not be armed.
He said a man recently came to the sheriff’s office seeking a gun permit. “He had been arrested four times for domestic violence,” Entrekin said. He had not been convicted, possibly because the victim was afraid of further violence, the sheriff said.
As sheriff, Entrekin did not have to issue the permit. Under the proposed changes in law, he would. There is great concern about people who are mentally ill getting access to guns.
“I know who (many of) these people are because I handle the cases,” Entrekin said. “I can say ‘I’m not giving you a permit, and here’s why.’
“With these bills I don’t have a choice,” Entrekin said.
The bills would also bar municipalities from passing any gun laws – including those that bar the discharge of weapons within the city limits.
“I strongly urge you to reach out to our senator and legislators,” the sheriff said, to ask them to oppose the bills.
Entrekin said the bills are quite lengthy, and contain so many objectionable issues that he didn’t have time to go into them all.
Another of immediate concern is a change in the cost of gun permits. Now, Entrekin said, gun permits are $20 and the money is used to help pay for school resource officers. The bills would reduce the cost to $10 and give the money directly to county commissions.
The bills are backed by the NRA, Entrekin said, and unfortunately have “some legs.” He said in Tennessee recently, the NRA put a lot of money into campaigns against some lawmakers who opposed bills the organization supported. One of those lawmakers was defeated, Entrekin said, and he believes some Alabama lawmakers may fear NRA opposition if they fail to support the bills.
But these bills, Entrekin said, affect everyone and should be killed before they leave committees.
If the bills pass, the sheriff told business owners, someone can walk into a store with a gun on their hip or over their shoulder, and the owner would know way of knowing if he or she is about to be robbed. And the merchant can’t even confront them about it without facing legal penalties. Even law enforcement officers, would face personal legal responsibility if they confront someone openly carrying a weapon.
“We can’t say anything to them,” Entrekin said. “How safe is that?”