Tuscaloosa Staff Unsure If Law Now Allows Permit Holders to Carry Guns in Schools
City staff in Tuscaloosa will look to the state for clarity on its new permitless carry law over major questions about what it allows and how to enforce it, including uncertainty about whether some individuals are now allowed to carry firearms at schools.
The concerns surfaced Monday afternoon at a meeting of the city council's Public Safety Commission led by city attorney Scott Holmes and Tuscaloosa Police Chief Brent Blankley.
In the meeting, Holmes was seeking the committee's blessing to reach out to state Attorney General Steve Marshall to ask for his legal opinion on a number of issues left murky when new gun laws passed in 2022 went into effect on the first of the year.
Permits No Longer Required
"If you want to carry a gun on your person or in your vehicle concealed, unless you are prohibited from having a gun by state or federal law, then you are now able to do that without having to do a background check or any interaction with the sheriff's department or any type of registration you would typically have with a pistol permit," Holmes summarized.
The city attorney said the new law does carve out several places where Alabama citizens are still not allowed to carry a pistol, including law enforcement buildings, detention facilities, courthouses and psychiatric care centers.
"Extra Privileges" in Gray Areas
The law also lists a number of places where people cannot carry -- unless they have a valid pistol permit, which sheriffs will still offer for sale. Some citizens may continue to get permits so they can carry in other states that honor Alabama permits, Holmes said, or for the right to carry in some of these special zones.
"Someone with a pistol permit, we believe, now may have extra privileges," Holmes said.
Those zones include venues hosting athletic events, regardless of whether they are professional, collegiate or high school events, and any facility "in which access is limited during normal hours by the continuous posting of guards and other securities."
"There's some real conflict in the law as to whether or not somebody with a pistol permit could walk into one of our schools."
And Holmes isn't just talking about teachers, parents and visitors -- Alabama residents can apply for a pistol permit at 18, and sheriffs are required to issue them to anyone who applies unless they are legally barred from gun ownership -- some students will fall into that gray area.
Holmes said there are also questions about whether other private property owners, like the University Mall, are legally allowed to prohibit permit holders from carrying firearms into their buildings.
Toothless "Duty to Inform"
The city also wants to know how TPD can enforce the new law's language establishing a possibly unenforceable "duty to inform" police if you are carrying a firearm during a traffic stop.
Before January, there was no legal requirement in Alabama to tell an officer, deputy or State Trooper if there was a gun in your vehicle or on your person when they asked. The permitless carry bill that passed last year established that requirement -- people in Alabama must now honestly answer any officer's questions about the presence of a firearm -- but the legislature did not establish a penalty for those who break that part of the law.
"No penalty section equals unconstitutionality for the lack of due process," Holmes said. "The government has told you that you can't do this, but they haven't told you what your punishment is and there are several cases that say that violates the Constitution. In addition, I think there are some concerns as to whether or not Fifth Amendment rights are implicated."
Chief Blakley said right now, TPD is simply not charging people who break that part of the new law.
"They put something in there saying we can arrest for this but you don't have a penalty so we can't arrest and that's the frustrating part," Chief Blankley said. "We're trying to do things the right way but it wasn't spelled out so we can actually go forward with that and actually make an arrest."
Their problem goes even deeper because Alabama specifically prohibits municipalities from passing their own gun laws.
"Short of legislative efforts on the lobbying side and requesting opinions for clarification from the attorney general, there's very little this body can do," Holmes said.
No action was taken on the matter Monday, but Holmes said he will get a list of questions together to send to Attorney General Marshall so the city can hear answers directly from the state's top legal officer.