By Donna Thornton/News Editor
A large gathering of law enforcement officers, including police chiefs from each of Etowah County’s municipalities, focused on a common goal during a press conference Feb. 25: to urge the defeat of three bills currently in legislative committees.
Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin has been vocal about opposition to Senate Bill 129 and House Bill 55 – companion bills that would give people the right to openly carry firearms of all kinds virtually anywhere, and penalize law enforcement officers or anyone else who interfered with them.
This week Entrekin added another to the bad bill list – House Bill 53.
This bill would allow for the formation of volunteer emergency security forces at public K-12 schools – forces who are not certified law enforcement officers. This legislation will require the sheriff and chiefs of police to train and supervise the emergency security forces.
Entrekin, Etowah County District Attorney Jimmie Harp, several police chiefs and representatives of local police unions spoke out against the bills, with a common theme: while they are all supporters of gun owners’ rights, they believe these bills will make the job of law enforcement harder and put them and the general public at greater risk.
There is a list of changes these bills would make that the law enforcement officers present opposed, including:
Taking away the right of property owners to post that no firearms are allowed on their property;
Stripping counties and municipalities of the authority to regulate certain activity related to firearms and concealed pistol permits – for example, outlawing the discharge of firearms inside a city’s boundaries;
Robbing the sheriff of the discretion to deny pistol permits even if the applicants is a potential threat;
Subjecting law enforcement officers and others to hefty civil penalties if they challenge someone who is carrying a firearm. And the bills would hinder law enforcement’s effort to deal with the hot-button topic that gave indirect rise to these bills: School safety. The bill would drop the fee for pistol permits to $10 a year.
“Currently, pistol permits in Etowah County are $20 and renewed annually,” states Sheriff Entrekin. “We use this money to hire School Resource Officers. If that fee is cut in half, we will lose the six deputies we currently have in schools.”
“I am a supporter of everyone’s second amendment right,” Sheriff Entrekin said. “However, it is my constitutional duty to protect the citizens of Etowah County and these bills will hurt more individuals than it will help.”
“These bills would put law enforcement at a major disadvantage,” Gadsden Police Sgt. Gary Pierce, President of the FOP Labor Council, said. “Consider what could happen if anyone was allowed to carry a shot gun or assault rifle to First Friday. Things could escalate out of control very quickly.”
Senate Bill 129 would call for issuing pistol permits to people who are not U.S. citizens, under certain circumstances, according to law enforcement officers.
The law enforcement officers oppose the provisions of House Bill 53 which allow the use of people who have never been certified as law enforcement officers into schools for security.
“Earlier in my career I served as a school resource officer,” Hokes Bluff Police Chief Mitchell Hill said. “I know that we need people who are certified officers and trained to handle a critical crisis that might happen in our schools.”
The following leaders of law enforcement organizations were present, along with many other officers: Chief Chris Snyder, Altoona; Chief Dennis Walker, Attalla; Chief Terry Davis, Boaz; Chief John Crane, Gadsden; Chief Jonathan Horton, Glencoe; Chief Mitchell Hill, Hokes Bluff; Chief Greg Carroll, Rainbow City; Chief James Harp, Sardis; Chief Chris Jones, Southside; Chief Jason Goolsby, Walnut Grove; Commander Rob Savage, Drug Enforcement Unit, District Attorney Jimmie Harp and Sheriff Todd Entrekin.