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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Governor Kay Ivey (R-Ala.) has signed a bill into law allowing Alabamians to carry concealed handguns without a permit.

“Unlike states who are doing everything in their power to make it harder for law-abiding citizens, Alabama is reaffirming our commitment to defending our Second Amendment rights,” said Governor Ivey. “I have always stood up for the rights of law-abiding gun owners, and I am proud to do that again today.”

The Alabama Legislature on Thursday gave final approval to a bill ending 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. The bill was signed by Gov. Ivey and will go into effect on Jan. 1.

“I don’t think that just because you own a firearm that you should have to pay a tax, or a fee, to carry it,” GOP Rep. Shane Stringer, the legislation’s sponsor, said.

The legislation is championed by gun rights advocates who call it “constitutional carry,” in reference to the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Opponents, including state sheriffs and others in law enforcement, said the permits help combat crime and enhance public safety.

“You are making it easier for the lawless,” Rep. Thomas Jackson, a Democrat from Thomasville, told Stringer during the debate.

The Alabama House of Representatives voted 70-29 for the bill approved by a conference committee. The Alabama Senate voted 24-6.

There are 21 states that allow concealed weapons in public without a permit.

Opponents have pointed to the state’s already high rate of gun violence. Alabama in 2020 had the country’s fifth-highest rate of gun-related deaths – including suicides and murders — with 1,141 deaths, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I remain very concerned about the increase in homicides and violent crime,” House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, a Democrat from Huntsville, said.

The Alabama Sheriffs’ Association opposed the bill. During public hearings, law enforcement officials said the permits are a tool officers use daily to remove weapons from the hands of individuals who should not have them in the first place.

A new state database is under development to help officers flag people who are prohibited from possessing a handgun. Stringer, a former captain in the Mobile County sheriff’s department, said he believes that will be a better system to catch people who should not have handguns. The president of the Alabama Sheriffs’ Association has said he does not think the database will effectively replace the safety checks provided by the permits because of inevitable gaps in data collection.

Lawmakers made several changes to the bill to try to alleviate some of law enforcement’s concerns.

During a traffic stop or other investigation, an officer who has a reasonable suspicion that a person was about to engage in criminal conduct, could temporarily take a handgun and run it through databases to see if the gun was stolen. The officer could also check the person’s criminal history.

An officer could also temporarily take a weapon if a reasonable person would believe it is necessary for the safety of the officer or others, but it must be returned unless there is an arrest, or the person is posing a safety threat.

The legislation would steer up to $5 million in state funds to sheriffs’ offices to compensate for the funding loss from permit fees.