Personal Accountability: Sheriff Sounds Off As New Al. Gun Law Takes Effect

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - Per Alabama Senate Bill 286, the state's new gun law is officially in effect. The bill clarifies some of Alabama’s existing gun laws and adds several new provisions for the carrying of a pistol - many, though, have continued to express concern or confusion over the changes.

"There's certain parts of the law that are repetitive and I think the average citizen may find some of it a little confusing," admits Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning.

WHNT News 19 has been taking action for weeks to address your top concerns regarding this new Alabama law but Madison County's top law enforcement agent is also making a call to action of his own to the public for some personal accountability among gun owners.

Questions may be looming but let's face it - the law is 40 pages long and, as laws go, not necessarily written for say, an elementary school student to understand. The law contains a lot of 'legalese', a lot of intricacies and even, some say, redundancies. Sheriff Blake Dorning implores the public to educate themselves.

Several people showed up at the Madison County Courthouse Thursday to renew pistol permits. Gun owner Tom Shaw took advantage of the extended permit allowance for up to 5 years and says despite looming questions or conflicting reports, he has done his own homework.

"You can't just assume I can do this or do that," Shaw said, "you better know the law or you can get yourself in pretty deep trouble pretty quick."

noticeSheriff Dorning clearly agrees. Just outside the threshold to the sheriff's office is a clearly posted sign reading 'The sheriff's office cannot give legal advice or explain changes to current Alabama law.'

"For any citizen who has questions about it, we refer them to the attorney general's website where they can actually see the law themselves," says Dorning bluntly.

"You have to, as a responsible gun owner - and we have always stressed this - it is your responsibility, not someone else, to educate yourself."

Dorning says it is not worth the risk to blame someone else for unanswered questions, especially when one's freedom could be at stake.

"Look at the law and then make your determination but be careful about listening to other people because if you don't educate yourself that's not a defense in criminal court - not knowing is not a defense," the sheriff reminds.

Per senate bill 286 sheriff's departments across the state are now compelled to issue pistol permits to qualifying 18-year-old applicants; a new and potentially inexperienced demographic.

"We've had to do a lot of research and we have found that based on the law we are going to be compelled to issue to 18 year olds."

Dorning has been vocal about being a pro gun, pro second amendment sheriff since the height of the gun control debate in early 2013 but says the idea of guns now legal in the hands of teens can be worrisome.

"Our greatest fear is college campuses," says Dorning. "You know, a college campus is exempt from gun zoning; even though it's a public institution of higher education it's not like a K-12. Most of the law deals with K-12 schools."

College kids, he says, may be the least of the worry. For Dorning it is about reality - not age discrimination.

"You're liable to have some high school seniors apply because when they're not on school grounds they can carry concealed. Any time you get a group of young people together you're going to have some that don't see eye to eye but now we're possibly going to be giving a person the legal right to be armed and to be there," Dorning warns, "times are changed."

Dorning says unfortunately answers to some questions may play out in the form of actual enforcement when someone finds out the hard way they are in violation of Alabama new law.