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Huntsville-Madison County Library board interested in other options to keep building gun-free

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - It is legal to carry a gun with you into the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library.

The Alabama Attorney General made the decision this week to require the library to remove signs that prohibit guns, in a move that counteracts the library board's efforts to keep the building firearm-free. Patrons tell us they, too, want the library to be gun-free again.

A sign that was removed from the downtown branch of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library (WHNT file photo)

The Attorney General responded to a complaint and found Huntsville out of compliance with firearms laws while the library had posted the signs prohibiting guns. Those signs have since been removed, and the AG's office says that means the city is now in compliance. The AG's office will not be entering into litigation about the issue because it is resolved.

But removing the signs means the library acknowledges guns can be brought inside.

There may be a move to change that soon. The board's desire to remain gun-free isn't going away. Some board members tell WHNT News 19 they would be interested in achieving the objective, although the board chair did not return our calls for comment.

"They felt, and they still strongly feel, that the library ought to be a place where people can go and not worry about firearms being on the premises there," said Trey Riley, Huntsville City Attorney, who advises the library board in this legal issue. "I was disappointed [when the AG made the decision.]"

He said it all came down to a disagreement about the interpretation of the law.

Disagreement About the Law

The library board believed under this section of Alabama law, they were exempt from allowing firearms. While the law allows firearms in libraries, certain provisions can allow a place to prohibit firearms.

This section lays it out:

(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a), a person, including a person with a permit issued under Section 13A-11-75(a)(1) or recognized under Section 13A-11-85, may not, without the express permission of a person or entity with authority over the premises, knowingly possess or carry a firearm inside any building or facility to which access of unauthorized persons and prohibited articles is limited during normal hours of operation by the continuous posting of guards and the use of other security features, including, but not limited to, magnetometers, key cards, biometric screening devices, or turnstiles or other physical barriers. Nothing in this subsection otherwise restricts the possession, transportation, or storage of a lawfully possessed firearm or ammunition in an employee's privately owned motor vehicle while parked or operated in a public or private parking area provided the employee complies with the requirements of Section 13A-11-90.

What that means, said Riley, is that according to the law a person cannot bring a firearm inside a building if there is a continuous guard presence at the entrance, along with other security like metal detectors, key card access, or turnstiles.

Riley said the library does have a guard presence and security measures, but the AG's office did not believe it was enough to truly make it exempt.

"The library has on duty at all times, security guards. One or more, often times multiple," he said, "They also have video monitoring systems and things of that nature. The argument that we made was that those measures they had taken fit within the confines of the statute."

What does the library need to do to be exempt?

Riley said the library board could accept the AG's decision, but the board could also make improvements and see if the AG's office will work with them on the issue.

Riley said one option could be adding more security measures.

"What comes to my mind is they could simply provide additional security personnel that would be stationed at the front, or they could purchase the type of devices provided in this statute," he said.

But Riley points out that can be expensive for a library that may be trying to save its pennies.

Still, he said the board has expressed interest in exploring its options to become gun-free again.

"We are certainly, the board is certainly, exploring or contemplating what options may be available. And the Attorney General's office is certainly willing to work with us. Their primary interest is in making sure that the law, as written, is followed. It's not a matter of their opinion, or my opinion, it's what the law says," he added.

What patrons are saying

WHNT News 19 caught up with patrons outside the library Wednesday.

Many were not aware the signs were taken down.

"I wasn't even aware they had taken the sign down. I feel very strongly that guns should not be allowed in libraries," said Lawren Cooper. "Our children are in there, and I don't want them to be at risk."

Others agreed.

"I'm just not comfortable letting people come in with guns," said Jimmie Bush, who wondered why a person would need a gun in the library. "My wife and I have been coming here for years. I've been feeling pretty safe because you see the signs," he commented. "Our kids, they come to the library to sit down and read and study. They don't come to see guns. I just don't think it's needed in our libraries."

WHNT News 19 was not able to connect with the library board chair to find out what the board's next move may be.

In a separate ruling this week, the Attorney General did allow the Von Braun Center to continue to bar guns from the premises. The reason is because the VBC now hosts the headquarters for HPD's Bike Patrol.