The Alabama legislature approved easing gun laws Thursday.
After about five hours of debate, the Alabama House of Representatives approve the measure that would allow employees to leave their pistols in their cars while at work. The guns would have to be left unloaded, in a locked place, out of reach from the driver or passengers.
Gun rights advocates in the legislature said doing whatever possible to strengthen gun rights was the logical next step after the shooting tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and at a movie theater in Aurora, CO last year.
"President Obama is trying to take people's guns away," said Rep. Ed Henry, (R - Hartselle).
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Scott Beason, (R- Gardendale), would clarify Alabama's status as an "open-carry" state. Alabama is already classified as one of a handful of states that allow you to carry your gun out in the open, like in a holster on your belt. Supporters of the bill said the measure removes any ambiguity from Alabama's code.
Rep. Henry said, "We're reassuring, reaffirming that Alabama is an open-carry and that those individuals do have a right."
Some Democrats have described the bill as a "solution in search of a problem" while conservative Republicans have said the bill is necessary to ensure the strength of gun rights in Alabama.
Rep. Juandalynn Givan said the entire country is going to look at Alabama as a state that's moving backward, attempting to make sure guns get into more people's hands, rather than trying to protect citizens.
"Now you have an employee possibly going to work, disgruntled, upset, and the first thing they might do is wave the gun or at least show the gun," Rep. Givan, (D - Jefferson), said.
Democrats offered an amendment to create "gun-free" zones around schools, but it was defeated along a party-line vote.
Rep. Henry, the House sponsor of the legislation, said because the debate didn't receive consideration from groups like the National Rifle Association, Gun Rights Alabama, and the Alabama Sheriffs Association, he could not endorse the amendment.
"This has been a balancing act" Rep. Henry said on the House floor.
Business groups have been very critical of the legislation, saying it erodes business and property owners' rights to make their own policies. The bill does limit the liability an employer faces if an incident involving an employee's weapon were to occur at work, but that still wasn't enough for some of the most influential business groups in the state.
"We're still not satisfied with this piece of legislation," said Billy Canary, President and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama.
Canary had described the bill during the committee stage as a way to appease the NRA, "they just want to color in the map" Canary said at the time.
The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate for approval. The House-passed bill removed some provisions, like allowing for a lifetime permit for someone to keep a pistol in their car.
The Senate could take up the bill next Tuesday.
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