Indisputable proof Alabamians have the power to demand the government they deserve
Like many of you, I often grow frustrated with our local, state and national elected leaders, and even occasionally feel powerless as I watch political events unfold.
But this past week provided me and many others around Alabama with indisputable evidence that our voices combined truly can make a difference.
Consider this timeline…
Sunday, July 19, 2015
On Sunday evening, I got an email from an Alabamian named Jayson informing me that he had something he thought “might be worth [taking] time to investigate.” Jayson explained how the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) had decided it had “the authority to regulate lawful carry at rest stops” around the state. In short, Jayson believed ALDOT had turned Alabama’s state-owned rest areas into “gun free zones.”
I was not aware of this rule and found it to be concerning for a couple of reasons.
First of all, I was concerned for travelers’ safety. Terrorist and criminal attacks have repeatedly occurred in places where law-abiding citizens were forbidden from carrying guns to defend themselves — theaters, schools, and even military installations. Rather than being a deterrent, gun free zones have become magnets for cowardly attackers seeking out soft targets, enabling them to wreak the most havoc with the least amount of resistance.
Secondly, I believed ALDOT was drastically overstepping its authority. Alabama law gives “the Legislature complete control over regulation and policy pertaining to firearms, ammunition, and firearm accessories in order to ensure that such regulation and policy is applied uniformly throughout this state to each person subject to the state’s jurisdiction and to ensure protection of the right to keep and bear arms recognized by the Constitutions of the State of Alabama and the United States.”
In other words, the Legislature is the only entity empowered to make gun laws in Alabama, while executive branch agencies like ALDOT are strictly prohibited from doing so.
With those concerns in mind, I forwarded Jayson’s email to Yellowhammer Senior Editor Elizabeth BeShears so she and one of Yellowhammer’s writers, Jordan LaPorta, could do some research.
Monday, July 20, 2015
After doing some digging, Jordan found that ALDOT had indeed placed “no weapons beyond this point” signs at rest areas around the state some time last year.
Yellowhammer published an article titled, “Alabama Department of Transportation bans firearms at rest stops. Is it legal?” In the article, Jordan laid out ALDOT’s legal justification for issuing the rule, alongside the aforementioned section of Alabama Code that says only the Legislature can make laws pertaining to firearms.
ALDOT did not return numerous requests for comment.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
I opened the Yellowhammer Radio program Tuesday by explaining the situation, then simply offered our listeners an opportunity to call the Alabama Department of Transportation to politely share their opinions with the staff. Many of them took the time to do exactly that, then call in to the radio to share the feedback they received.
By all accounts, the ALDOT staffers who fielded the wave of calls were very professional and courteous. One of the callers said they were told the complaints had been heard, but that ALDOT was waiting on the Alabama attorney general’s office to review whether ALDOT had the authority to implement the gun ban.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
A spokesperson from the attorney general’s office confirmed to Yellowhammer they were reviewing the matter after receiving complaints from the public, but ALDOT was still not being very responsive.
“We don’t want this to be a distraction for us,” a spokesperson for ALDOT finally told Yellowhammer. “You can probably imagine we have a lot of issues we deal with day in and day out.”
Jordan LaPorta wrote a followup story titled “ALDOT: Complaints over Alabama rest area ‘gun free zones’ are a ‘distraction,’ AG reviewing.”
Thursday, July 23, 2015
I opened the Yellowhammer Radio show with an update on the story and offered the opportunity for our listeners to give the attorney general’s office a call to politely voice their concerns. Our listeners, again, got engaged.
Friday, July 24, 2015
I received an email from a senior staffer in the Bentley Administration letting me know the Governor had personally reviewed the ALDOT rule and decided to take action.
“I have ordered the Alabama Department of Transportation to remove signs banning weapons at all Alabama rest stops to comply with state law,” the Governor tweeted Friday afternoon, and Yellowhammer closed the week with a story by Elizabeth BeShears titled “Bentley abolishes ‘gun free zones’ at rest areas, orders signs removed.”
In less than a week, a longstanding rule endangering the lives of travelers around Alabama went from being relatively unknown to abolished, and it all started with one man’s email. It was then made possible by a group of citizens willing to take a few minutes out of their busy schedules to petition their government to make a change.
That’s how it’s supposed to work, and why I continue to believe that, as Winston Churchill once said, “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
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— Cliff Sims (@Cliff_Sims) June 9, 2015