MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama could join 11 other states that allow people to carry a concealed handgun in public without getting a special permit.
The Alabama Senate by a 25-8 vote approved the NRA-backed legislation to do away with the requirement for a permit to carry a handgun out of sight, such as in a car or under a jacket or in a purse. The bill now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives for consideration.
"Every citizen should have the right to bear arms without paying a fee," said Sen. Gerald Allen, the Tuscaloosa Republican who sponsored the bill.
Allen argued that Alabama is an open carry state so it made no sense to allow a person to carry a gun on a hip holster in public but require a permit if the person puts on a jacket or gets in a car.
The legislation has pitted Republican lawmakers and gun enthusiasts against some state law enforcement officers who say the permits are needed for public safety and to help them discern law-abiding citizens from potential crime suspects.
Capt. Michael Salomonsky of the Madison County Sheriff's Office told a Senate committee last month that the permits are crucial tools in solving crimes and help officers determine who could be a suspect.
"If our job is to protect the community, don't take our tools," Salomonsky said last month.
Eleven states allow people to carry concealed weapons in public without a permit, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Most of those states still issue concealed weapon permits, as would Alabama, for people who may want them to carry in other states.
Democrats accused Republicans of trying to "rebrand" their party by passing a popular bill for their conservative base after a number of scandals, including last week's sudden resignation by the state's Republican governor amid an effort to impeach him.
"They're rebranding the Republican Party. This is the first bill of the rebrand. Guns. This is the Wild, Wild West. This is Trump South," said Sen. Bobby Singleton, a Democrat.