Alabama Measure Would Label 2nd Amendment a 'Fundamental Right'

Voters will decide whether to add language in the state constitution intended to give higher legal protections to gun rights.
by | October 31, 2014
AP/Matt York

ELECTION 2014: This article is part of our coverage of ballot measures to watch.

A constitutional amendment on the Alabama ballot would affirm that the right to bear arms is a “fundamental right" and any regulation of firearms is subject to “strict scrutiny” in court.

A similar measure passed in Missouri during the August primary. In both cases, legislators argued that the state required higher legal protections for gun rights. They are part of a larger wave of gun laws passed in red states in the past two years.

The Obama administration and Democrats in the U.S. Senate, in response to the December 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, pushed for federal restrictions on high-capacity magazines, semi-automatic long guns and private gun sales -- though no federal measures came to fruition. Some states with Democratic governors, such as New York, Maryland and Connecticut, passed their own versions of these gun reforms. In response to that high-profile gun control push, some Republican-led legislatures loosened regulations on firearms through a range of actions, such as allowing K-12 instructors to carry concealed weapons and lifting bans on concealed guns in churches and bars.

The sponsor of the Alabama amendment, state Rep. Mike Jones, told the Associated Press the measure would guard against future attempts by state or local elected officials to mimic policies put in place in more liberal parts of the country. Strict scrutiny, the most stringent form of judicial review, requires government to a demonstrate compelling interest before regulating a constitutional right. Even if there is a compelling interest, the government must tailor the regulation as narrowly as possible.

Overwhelming majorities in both Alabama chambers approved the constitutional amendment for the November ballot. State Sen. Linda Coleman, one of only four senators to vote against the bill, said the law duplicates protections already enshrined in the state constitution. “People already have the right to go around and carry guns,” she said.

Coleman represents the city of Birmingham, where she used to be a council member. In general, gun ownership is lower in urban areas than rural areas and people in urban areas tend to favor gun control over protecting gun rights. Election results might reveal a rural-urban divide on public support for the Alabama gun measure, as they did in the Missouri primary. Even though the Missouri amendment passed in August, it failed to win a majority of votes in St. Louis County, the city of St. Louis and Kansas City.

One unexpected opponent of the Alabama amendment is Eddie Fulmer, the president and director of the state's largest gun rights organization, BamaCarry, Inc. Fulmer told the news site AL.com that he worries the revised gun amendment will actually leave the right to bear arms vulnerable to new types of regulation. He said the state constitution's current gun protections are actually stronger than what the amendment proposes. (The National Rifle Association, on the other hand, has endorsed the amendment.)

Alabama is not the only state with a ballot measure related to guns in November. Washington state has two conflicting measures pertaining to background checks on gun sales. One would expand background checks to all gun sales, including at gun shows and over the Internet. The other would preempt a state push for background checks of all gun sales by limiting the state's background check policy to whatever the federal government requires. The political makeup of Congress all but guarantees that federal law will not include universal background checks for gun sales any time in the next few years.