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Alabama Voters Approve Gun Rights Amendment

Alabama voters approved a constitutional amendment that affirms the right to bear arms is a "fundamental right" and any regulation of that right is subject to the highest level of judicial review.

Voters in Alabama approved an amendment to the state constitution that affirms that the right to bear arms is a “fundamental right"; any regulation of firearms is therefore subject to “strict scrutiny” in court. The amendment passed 72-28.

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 school shooting in Connecticut, 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.

Under strict scrutiny, the most stringent form of judicial review, government must 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.

The editorial board for the Montgomery Advertiser referred to the gun amendment, and two other constitutional amendments, as the "worst sort of political game playing and should be roundly rejected by voters." The board's argument, echoing other critics, is that the right to bear arms was already protected in the state constitution.

One unexpected opponent of the Alabama amendment was Eddie Fulmer, the president and director of the state's largest gun rights organization, BamaCarry, Inc. Fulmer told the news site that he worried the revised gun amendment would actually leave the right to bear arms vulnerable to new types of regulation. He said the state constitution's gun protections were actually stronger than what the amendment adds. (The National Rifle Association, on the other hand, had no such qualms and endorsed the amendment.)

J.B. Wogan is a Governing staff writer.
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