Sheriffs feeling pinch of lost pistol permit revenue
By Michael Wetzel
For the Enquirer
The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office estimates that the state law eliminating the requirement for a permit when carrying a concealed handgun, which took effect Jan. 1 but was anticipated before then, has cost the department more than a quarter million dollars over the last two years, and other sheriffs’ offices are also feeling the pinch.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said financial help is on the way, but law enforcement officials fear that help will fall far short of replacing lost revenue from the declining sale of pistol permits.
Morgan County sheriff’s spokesman Mike Swafford said the $255,751 in lost permit revenue over the last two years — a loss that began when passage of the law was widely expected — funded training, equipment and school resource programs.
“We saw a 17 percent drop in funding from permits from 2020 to 2021 and an additional 40.3 percent drop from 2021 to 2022,” he said. “We’re expecting more losses.”
Comparing monthly numbers, Swafford said the Sheriff’s Office sold 1,098 permits in January 2021, 574 in January 2022 and 363 in January 2023.
The state Legislature is making plans to offset some of those monetary losses and is collecting data from each county to calculate reimbursement amounts.
“We put $5 million in the budget for sheriff shortfalls,” Orr said of the Legislature’s plan for reimbursing sheriffs’ offices for money lost as a result of the legislation.
He said sheriffs’ offices are required to submit reports to the Department of Public Examiners to detail permits purchased and the permit revenues generated during the first quarters (October through the end of December) of fiscal 2022 and fiscal 2023.
Orr expects state money to be sent to all counties on a quarterly basis, “based on what they had in 2022 and will make up the difference in 2023.”
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones, president of the Alabama Sheriffs Association, said sheriffs’ offices across the state are seeing decreases similar to those in Morgan County, and he’s concerned about how long it will take before sheriffs see reimbursements. He said Lee County’s permit sales were down 40 percent in January from the previous January.
“It’s still early in the game,” Jones said. “What sheriffs would like to see is a more realistic approach to the numbers and use fiscal 2021 numbers as a base. That is one of the sticking points in our discussions with legislators. They’ve been open and agreeable to continuing discussions to lessen the impact of this legislation. We feel using the 2021 figures would provide a more accurate picture of sales.”
Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, agreed, saying he hopes a new bill will be introduced in the legislative session beginning March 7 that will increase that $5 million figure, and move the base year from fiscal 2022 to 2021.
“Our draft bill doesn’t have a dollar figure in it right now,” Brasfield said. “We want it to fully reimburse the counties, not just this year but for every year going forward. I haven’t talked with a legislator yet who is opposed to the amendment. We’re pretty confident to get that change made.”
Jones and Brasfield said once the news broke about two years ago that pistol permits were likely to become a thing of the past in the state, sales plummeted.
Gov. Kay Ivey signed the legislation into law in March 2022.
“Some (legislators) were saying the (permit) sales would not go down, when in actuality, people stopped buying pistol permits almost immediately,” Brasfield said. “Pistol permit revenue began declining the minute the ink dried on Gov. Ivey signing it into law. So, we would be using a reduced number as the base year. That would make the make-up money much smaller.”
Jones called the Legislature’s temporary reimbursement of $5 million the first year and about $2 million the following three years inadequate and said a more permanent solution is needed. He believes the pistol permit revenue loss could reach between $12 million to $16 million annually across the state.
Swafford agreed, saying the data the state is asking for is skewed.
“We are supposed to apply for funds quarterly,” he said. “But our percentage is based on (the drop from) 2022 permit sales, which were already substantially lower.”
Swafford said the lost revenue will have the most serious adverse effect in Morgan County on the school resource officer program and deputy patrols.
“The biggest impact so far has been on equipment and training,” he said. “We are working to navigate how to handle both. (Our department) traveling over 2 million miles a year and maintaining our fleet are priorities. We are currently looking at options. The funds also support our SRO program. Although the personnel cost is handled by Morgan County Schools, outfitting each school officer with equipment and a vehicle comes from these funds. We will have to figure out how to do that going forward.”
Lawrence County Sheriff Max Sanders said he is unsure when the reimbursement checks will arrive and how much his department will get.
“We don’t know what kind of check we will receive,” he said. “The state wanted us to submit the first quarter numbers of the previous two fiscal years by Jan. 10, so we could get our portion of the first reimbursement.”
Lawrence County Chief Deputy Brian Covington said permit sales have been decreasing the past couple of years, but it may not be just about the end of the permit requirement. He said gun owners come in to purchase permits of varying time lengths.
“If somebody came in three years ago and purchased a five-year permit, we don’t expect them to be back for a couple of more years,” he said. “So the permit purchase numbers may be down because some people who want to continue to purchase permits aren’t coming in because their permits aren’t expiring. How that affects our reimbursement total is anybody’s guess.”
The Lawrence Sheriff’s Office supplied data that showed in the first quarter of fiscal 2022, the office sold $28,060 in pistol permits. In the first quarter of fiscal 2023 that figure totaled $14,480, a decrease of 48.4 percent.
Covington said pistol permit sales in Lawrence County in October 2021 totaled $7,700. In October 2022, that revenue dropped to $4,680. In November 2021, permits sold in Lawrence County totaled $8,980. In November 2022, they brought in $4,800.
In December 2021 with holiday and hunting seasons boosting gun sales, permits totaled $11,380. In December 2022, those permit sales dwindled to $5,000, according to Lawrence County records.
“We’re already feeling a pinch,” Covington said. “We’ve cut back on everything. We purchase what we need, not what we want. We’ve never had a lot of money here. We do the best with what we have. We’ll be grateful for anything we receive from the state.”
The same law that’s causing a decline in revenue for sheriffs is causing an increase in revenue for gun dealers.
“Our business has seen a steady climb since the first of the year. Most of it is for guns,” said Howard Godbee, manager of Mid City Pawn and Guns on Sixth Avenue in Decatur, who attributes the increase to the fact that customers no longer have to deal with getting a pistol permit. “We have some customers asking if it is true that they don’t need a permit any longer to conceal carry. The word is getting out. I’d say our gun sales are up at least 10 percent. The weapon of choice? A 9mm.”
Some gun owners are continuing to buy pistol permits, especially if they visit other states.
Kristina Ladd of Decatur spent time on her lunch break Tuesday to renew her one-year permit at the Morgan County Jail.
“I have had this previous permit about five years,” she said. “I believe everyone should have a permit to carry weapons. Getting a permit in most states mean you have a background check done, and I feel that’s appropriate if you are carrying a firearm for defense or otherwise. Some other states still require it.”
According to the U.S. Concealed Carry Association, 23 states allow concealed carry without a permit.
On Friday afternoon, Patrick Terry, 56, of Hillsboro, was picking out a new 9mm handgun at Mid City Pawn and Guns. He said even though permits are no longer required, he plans to renew his three-year permit when it expires next year.
“I will continue to purchase a permit,” said Terry, a volunteer firefighter in Lawrence County. “I want to support the sheriff’s department. They need all the money they can get. I believe the state needs to distribute more than $5 million they are talking about giving them. It costs a lot of money to run a department.”
Terry said he also wants a permit for out-of-state trips.
“I travel some with my job. I want to make sure I’m covered, too,” he said.
According to the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, Alabama permits are recognized by Mississippi, Georgia, Vermont, New Hampshire, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, North Carolina and Indiana. Florida and Louisiana recognize Alabama permits for those 21 and older. South Carolina is the only Southern state that requires concealed carry permits but does not recognize a permit from Alabama.