Morgan sheriff worried about loss of gun permit funds
By Michael Wetzel
For the Enquirer
The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office says its operations could be hindered by declining revenue from gun permit sales following passage of a state law that’ll allow residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit beginning Jan. 1.
Permit sales have also declined in Lawrence County, but Limestone County’s sheriff says his sales have remained relatively consistent. Two legislators say they don’t foresee permit sales declining significantly because concealed carry gunowners will still need permits when traveling out of state.
In the meantime, the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office is feeling the effects of collecting $106,600 less from permit sales in the first four months of this year compared to the same period a year earlier.
“Citizens think you don’t need pistol permits, and that funding (source) has fallen off the cliff,” Morgan County sheriff’s spokesman Mike Swafford said. “The (concealed carry) bill doesn’t go into effect until 2023, but because of the way the message was put out, people don’t think they need (permits) any more so they’re not buying them.
“It puts them at risk. If you are stopped today, you can be arrested if you don’t have an active permit.”
The permit revenue goes into the contingency funds in sheriff’s departments, and the money is used for vehicle purchases, equipment, training and outfitting school resource officers, sheriffs said.
The new law will end the requirement for a person to get a concealed carry permit to carry a loaded handgun concealed under their clothes, in a car or in a purse or bag. Sheriff’s departments had lobbied against the concealed carry law to protect their revenue.
“We were defunded in a popular way,” Swafford said of the financial effect of a law pushed by gun rights advocates. “Our message was drowned out. We want Second Amendment rights. The real argument was do what you want to, but replace the funding.”
Swafford said his department’s pistol permit sales are down 41% in 2022. “This equals a 58.1% drop in funds from permits,” he said.
In the first four months of 2021, Morgan County Sheriff’s Office sold 3,375 permits worth $183,400. It dropped to 2,005 permits worth $76,800 in the same four months this year.
Morgan Sheriff Ron Puckett said he’s concerned about the drop in revenue the department is already seeing. He said gun permits usually put about $450,000 every 12 months into the department’s contingency fund.
“That drop drastically affects our operating the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “Regardless of where the money comes from, we still have to operate the sheriff’s department.”
State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and state Rep. Proncey Robertson, R-Mount Hope, said the Legislature will provide $5 million for each of the next three years for those departments across the state who prove they are losing money.
“Those sheriff’s departments who say they’re losing money are probably wrong,” Robertson said. “Let’s give it a year or two and see what happens. If Alabama loses money, it will be an anomaly in the nation.”
Orr agreed. “The data I had on that showed that there was not a dropoff in permit fees for law enforcement in states that have gone permitless for concealed carry,” Orr said.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is developing a database, authorized by the state law creating a lifetime concealed carry permit option, that officers will be able to use to flag people not legally entitled to carry a handgun. Robertson said individuals land on the list when they are convicted of a felony crime as well as domestic violence and violation of a protection from abuse order issued by a judge.
He said ALEA is filling the database, and it should be ready by Oct. 1.
“Anybody who commits a violent crime after that time will be added to the list,” he said.
Although the Legislature has allocated money to reimburse Sheriff’s Office for lost gun permit sales, those funds will be distributed based on 2022 permit sales that are already declining in Morgan.
That decision bothers Puckett.
“Legislators told me ‘you might lose about 10%’ in permit sales,” he said. “Our sales are already down.”
Puckett also wants to know what happens after three years and the legislative reserve money is discontinued.
“Maybe it’s just Morgan County, but our numbers are down,” he said. “Perhaps the legislators will realize they made a mistake and amend the law to include the number of permit sales before 2022. I’ve got to hire deputies, buy equipment, train those folks. That money is used for all of those things.”
Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long said it is the Legislature’s responsibility to replace the lost revenue.
“I’m sure the Legislature will be working with him to get him the extra money,” he said. “We don’t anticipate having to make that (deficit) up. The County Commission is not in a position to make up funds the legislators take away. If we started making up the losses, they would just take all of it away. That’s a legislative problem. If they cut his funding, it is their place to find him additional funding.”
Long added the commission is losing its 15% share from the administrative fees tied to permit sales.