By Donna Thornton/News Editor
Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin vocally opposed a proposed gun bill that would have made drastic changes in the ability of business owners to limit firearms on their property, in his office to restrict gun permits, and the authority of law enforcement officers to question someone carrying a gun.
Revisions were made to the bill – which became a lengthy new law – and Entrekin said he feels better about the provisions of the bill now.
The Etowah County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s office organized three training sessions last week for law enforcement officers, business owners and others interested in learning particulars of the gun bill.
Barry Matson, Deputy Director of the Alabama Office of Prosecution, spoke to those gathered about what the changes in the gun law mean for officers, business owners and individuals.
Businesses with public access – retail stores and other businesses that invite customers or clients inside – business owners can post signs stating “No Firearms Allowed” and provided the business has some “barrier” or attendant/guard, can prohibit all persons, even those with a concealed carry permit from bringing a gun in their business.
“What’s a barrier?” Matson said, suggesting greeter or counter could be construed as a barrier.
Trespassing laws still apply, he said.
Entrekin said the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office is printing “no firearms” signs that will be available to businesses that want signs.
He said they will be made available to The Chamber, Downtown Gadsden Inc., and at the sheriff’s office.
Entrekin had been very concerned about changes in the process of granting or denying pistol permits.
Matson explained there are many factors that give the sheriff the authority to deny a permit, including: a person being prohibited by state or federal law from carrying a pistol; being found mentally ill or incompetent to stand trial in a criminal case; having asserted a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity; having required involuntary treatment or commitment to a mental health facility, which could include drug rehab; and others.
The law also allows a sheriff to deny a permit for a justifiable concern for public safety, giving sheriffs some discretion. Sheriffs will need to give a reason for denial of the permit.
And for gun owners, the law also gives the right to appeal a denial to district court within days.
Matson said the sheriff’s department can file its reasons for the denial, and the district judge can rule on the matter.
While there is no established process for appealing that decision, Matson said either the permit-seeker or the sheriff can file a writ of mandamus, which would take the matter to Circuit Court.
In the first session, the large majority of those attending were law enforcement officers, undoubtedly concerned about how the law will impact their safety and ability to protect the public.
Matson had reassuring words. “Common sense is alive,” he said.
A section of the law states that nothing in the act shall prevent law enforcement ability to protect against breach of the public peace.
“If you have a reasonable suspicion a crime is going to occur,’’ Matson said, officers can approach someone carrying a gun.
“You can do all the things you could do,” Matson said, before the change in law.
Officers have to make gut decisions every day in encounters with people, he said, and he never wanted to know that someone got hurt because he left them thinking they could not act for fear of violating someone’s gun rights according to this law.
“The number one concern is your safety,” Matson said. “We can fix hard feelings.”
Entrekin assured officers they should act in the interest of safety – that of the public and themselves.
“If you think someone doesn’t need a permit,” Entrekin told deputies and police officers from Etowah County, “you let me know.”
If they encounter someone at 2 a.m. and feel they need to revoke a permit, Entrekin said, they should do it, and the issue can be sorted out later, with a permit returned if proper.