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‘It’s a political thing’: Wiregrass sheriffs against ending pistol permit requirement

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‘It’s a political thing’: Wiregrass sheriffs against ending pistol permit requirement

Houston County Sheriff Donald Valenza addresses the media in his office in this 2021 file photo.

Wiregrass sheriffs, backed by a state association, are worried that a Republican push to abolish the permit requirement to carry a concealed handgun is motivated by partisan politics over public safety.

Members of the GOP in the Alabama House of Representatives said Wednesday that ending the permit requirement would be among their top priorities in the upcoming legislative session.

The Alabama House Republican Caucus announced a legislative agenda that includes the so-called “constitutional carry” legislation that does away with the requirement to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public. The backing increases the chances of approval for the proposal that has failed for several years in Montgomery under opposition from state sheriffs.

Houston County Sheriff Donald Valenza said the process is currently pretty simple: an individual seeking a permit comes to the sheriff’s office, fills out a form for a quick background check, and pays for the permit. The cost is $20 per year and gun owners can get a permit active for up to five years under the current law.

Valenza emphasized that he is a strong proponent of individual gun ownership, but is adamantly opposed to the proposed legislation.

“There’s a legal way of doing it and the check and balance is a pistol permit,” Valenza said. “It’s to keep the bad people from having guns.”

The background check allows the sheriff’s office to ensure the individual does not have past felony or violent crimes convictions, is not under indictment for a felony or violent crime, or prior commitments to mental health facilities before issuing a permit. These classes of people cannot own or possess a gun under state and federal laws.

If the permit requirement is repealed, deputies will no longer have probable cause to search vehicles if they see a gun since not having a permit would no longer be illegal.

Valenza said he believes the motive behind the bill is purely political and has little to do with the Second Amendment, something he wholeheartedly supports.

“Legal people should be armed, not thugs with stolen guns, and the permit check helps us make that process work,” Valenza said.

In fact, Valenza, a longtime law enforcement officer, says he encourages law-abiding citizens to arm themselves for protection.

“If you dial 9-1-1, we’re coming, but you’re on your own until we get there,” Valenza said.

Bobby Timmons, executive director of the Alabama Sheriff’s Association and a former state legislator, also disapproves the proposed bill.

“The ones that are pushing this in the government are using it as an instrument to pit Republicans against Democrats,” he said on Friday. “We need the right to be able to do a background check, just like we make sure someone can drive before giving them a driver’s license, and how we issue permits for just about anything regulated by the government.”

He denied that the permit process violates the constitution or citizen’s rights. He said the fee associated with the process is small and is mostly used for operational expenses associated with issuing permits.

With gun violence on the rise, sheriffs don’t want to make it easier for criminals to obtain and keep firearms.

“You’re taking away the ability for law enforcement to protect citizens,” Geneva County Sheriff Tony Helms said. “With the permit checks, stolen pistols are recovered all the time. Those pistols are taken away from criminals constantly. We run the numbers and find out they’ve been used in crimes in other places.”

Helms, Valenza, and Timmons also expressed concern that revoking permits will cause other legal issues for gun-carrying citizens if they travel across state lines to Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. In those states, permits are required for concealed handguns. Without a permit, Alabamians caught with a concealed firearm can be arrested and charged with a felony.

For many people, abolishing the pistol requirement could make traveling with a concealed firearm even more difficult.

“Should everyone in Alabama that’s at least 18 years old be able to travel anywhere they want to with a pistol unabated?” Helms said. “That’s the question citizens should ask their delegation.”

Sable Riley is a Dothan Eagle staff writer and can be reached at sriley@dothaneagle.com or 334.712.7915. Support her work and that of other Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.

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