MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – The Mobile County Commission is poised to go on record supporting the sheriff in a political dispute over pistol permits.
County commissioners plan to vote Tuesday to support Sheriff Sam Cochran’s position opposing pending legislation that would eliminate the requirement that gun owners obtain permits to carry concealed handguns. All three commissioners appear to support the current rules.
“The most important thing is what is in the best interest of the community. Crime is an issue,” Commissioner Connie Hudson said. “We don’t want to do anything to tie the hands of law enforcement. You know, if there are illegal things happening out there that they need to be able to have the flexibility to investigate and do what is necessary.”
Hudson said the sheriff asked for the support.
“To not support the sheriff’s positions would cause an issue with being able to continue to keep the community as safe as we can,” she said.
The vote comes ahead of the 2022 legislative session in which pistol permit opponents intend to renew an effort they have waged for the better part of a decade.
Under current law, people must obtain a permit from the Sheriff’s Office in order to carry concealed handguns or have them in vehicles. Sheriffs have discretion to deny permits for reasons beyond those that make people ineligible to possess weapons. And they can charge fees, which vary from county to county.
From the beginning of the year through Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Office sold 31,055 permits. A total of 65,142 residents have permits to carry concealed.
At $20 a pop, those permits have generated $621,100 in revenue this year. But Cochran always has insisted his opposition is not about the money. He has pointed to another statistic – the 846 pistol permit applications that the Sheriff’s Office denied – and has argued the law empowers sheriffs to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.
Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich said the pistol permit requirement often buys police extra time to find evidence against criminal suspects who otherwise would have to be turned loose.
“We use a no pistol permit tool to help make our community safer,” she told FOX10 News. “We use the no pistol permit tool when someone’s arrested for no pistol permit to hold defendants in jail until we can file, you know, greater charges on them.”
But Rep. Shane Stringer (R-Citronelle), who is sponsoring the legislation to eliminate the pistol permit requirement, said he does not believe the change would handicap law enforcement investigations.
“I think there’s other avenues to go,” he said. “If we can come up with the pistol permit charge, we can come up with something else if they violated. I don’t think it’s gonna create a major issue.”
Stringer noted that the Legislature this year voted to create a law enforcement database that police quickly could tap into to find out if someone with a gun is prohibited from having it. He said once that database is up and running, it will be a much stronger tool than pistol permits.
Advocacy on the issue cost Stringer his job earlier this year as a captain in the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office and pit him against Cochran, his longtime friend and mentor.
Stringer said he respects the County Commission’s position but added, “I don’t think it’s going to make a big difference in the Legislature in whether the bill passes or not.”
The issue could make its way into the next election for sheriff. Cochran is not running for re-election, but Charlie Wyckoff – who unsuccessfully challenged him four years ago and is running again next year – said he supports the bill.
“I am for constitutional carry, and it’s because the Constitution, the Second Amendment, says the right of the people ‘shall not be infringed,’” he said.
Wyckoff, who heads up the Mobile County chapter of BamaCarry, told FOX10 News that law enforcement authorities that “a pistol permit does not stop criminals from carrying guns.”
As to the argument that not being able to detain suspects for pistol permit violations deprives law enforcement authorities of an important crime-fighting tool, he said: “They have 20 other tools before that one.”
Stringer’s bill would keep pistol permits but make them voluntary. People could still choose to pay the fee and obtain the permit. Stringer said some people undoubtedly would continue to do so in order to be able to carry concealed guns in other states that recognize Alabama permits. And he noted that Alabamians legally can carry unconcealed handguns right now and have loaded long guns in their vehicles.
“The criminals are not buying permits anyway,” he said. “So this only addresses handguns, and it only addresses law-abiding citizens.”
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