The stickers, picturing a red gun with a line through it, were put up Monday. Metal signs have been ordered and will be posted at all the school system’s athletic fields before any athletic events take place in the system, Superintendent Claire Dryden said. The ban applies to openly carried weapons and concealed weapons, she added.
The signs were a $7,000 expense, but became necessary after a new state law went into effect this month declaring, among other things, that openly carrying a gun is not disorderly conduct, she said.
According to the state law the only places carrying a gun is prohibited are law enforcement offices, prisons, jails or detention facilities, facilities caring for mental, emotional or psychiatric patients, a courthouse or courthouse annex, a building containing a district attorney’s office or in which a city council or county commission is meeting.
People are not allowed to openly carry a gun into school or professional athletic events but can carry a concealed weapon if they have a permit, the law states.
However, according to the law, property owners do have the option of placing signs alerting gun owners to the fact that they do not allow guns on their property. That means places like schools, municipalities, counties or private businesses can ban guns from their property through policy, said Heflin Police Chief A.J. Benefield.
That has left the city of Heflin wrestling with the question of whether it wants to create an ordinance banning guns from city property.
At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Tammy Perry, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said she would like to ban all guns from the city’s recreation property, both those openly carried and concealed weapons.
Benefield said he was unsure if that was possible.
The City Council created a committee including the city attorney Patrick Casey to decide how to handle any new ordinance or policy or even if the city wants to have its own policy, Benefield said.
“There won’t be an ordinance in place that will supercede any state law,” Benefield said.
Cleburne County Administrator Steve Swafford said the County Commission hasn’t discussed the issue. The Mountain Center, which is jointly owned by Jacksonville State University, has stickers displayed on the front door banning firearms from the property because JSU made that a policy for all its properties, Swafford said.
No other county properties have the stickers, he added.
Under the old state law, openly carrying a firearm provided police enough probable cause to question a person about their motives. Now, officers don’t have that probable cause, unless a notice banning guns from the property is posted on the door of a facility, Benefield said.
“Then they are in violation of the law and they’ll be asked to leave,” Benefield said. “If they refuse to leave, then they’ll be arrested for criminal trespassing.”
Even then, it is up to the owner or person in authority over the property to ask the gun owner to leave. The police enforce state and local laws, not business or property owner’s policies, Benefield said.
The new state law also changes some of the approval process for concealed weapon permits, said Sheriff Joe Jacks. It adds a 30-day deadline to the approval process, Jacks said. That’s not a problem, Jacks said. The background check usually only takes a few minutes, he said.
The new law also creates an appeal process for someone who has been denied a gun permit by the sheriff of their county, Jacks said.
According to state law, a sheriff can deny a permit if he suspects it might be used unlawfully or put someone in danger. A person denied a permit can appeal to the district judge for a hearing. The judge can uphold the denial or reverse it, Jacks said. That’s a change he welcomes, Jacks said.
“It puts it into two people’s hands,” Jacks said.
It ensures the standards a sheriff used to deny a license were reasonable, he added.
Usually, the Cleburne County Sheriff’s Office sells 100 to 120 gun permits in a month, Jacks said.
But since the new law passed, applications for concealed pistol permits have increased about 10 percent, Jacks said. That’s not particularly surprising to him.
Whenever a new law concerning guns is enacted “people get on edge,” Jacks said. People think the government is trying to take away their right to carry a gun and get a license, he said.
He doesn’t think there will be any problems in Cleburne County if more people start openly carrying their guns, he said.
“People are used to seeing guns here,” Jacks said. “So many people hunt.”
Dryden does think there may be some issues if more people start walking around with their guns openly displayed.
“It makes people nervous,” Dryden said.
She also thinks people might try to bring guns into athletic events or the schools not realizing that it’s still not allowed or forgetting they have it strapped to their waist.
“I don’t think anyone would do it purposely,” Dryden said.
None of the policies banning the openly carrying of weapons apply to law enforcement, said Assistant District Attorney Eric Snyder.
Staff writer Laura Camper 256-463-2872. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.