Gun rights supporter challenges weapons ban at polling precincts

By CASSANDRA MICKENS/Associate Editor

COLUMBIANA — A gun rights supporter who was asked to store his firearm before voting in the June 3 Republican primary spoke before the Shelby County Commission June 9, saying his constitutional rights were violated.

Robert Kennedy of Pelham, co-founder and director of Bama Carry, a nonprofit gun-rights advocacy group, said he was prohibited from entering the Pelham First Baptist Church Annex June 3 while carrying his weapon. Kennedy recorded the exchange with security personnel and posted the footage to Bama Carry’s YouTube channel.

“You’re not going to be allowed to carry your firearm inside,” a security officer tells Kennedy in the video.

Kennedy replied, “If I’m not allowed to go in here and vote armed, which is my constitutionally protected right [and] you’re gonna say no, I’m gonna file a protest on this election.”

A security notice on the door prohibiting guns can be clearly seen in the video, but Kennedy said his constitutional right to openly carry a weapon trumps a state law allowing firearms in public places unless a sign is posted. Following the exchange with security personnel, Kennedy returned to his car without casting his vote.

A law passed last year allows guns in many places, but also states guns are prohibited in courthouses. Since the law’s passing, several businesses statewide have posted signs banning firearms.

Prior to the June 3 primary, Bobby Timmons, executive director of the Alabama Sheriff’s Association, mailed letters to the state’s 67 sheriffs saying weapons should be prohibited from polling places because the law bans guns in courthouses and courthouse annexes. According to Timmons, a polling place is considered an extension of a courthouse.

Various interpretations of the law have led to confusion among state officials. The Alabama Sheriff’s Association is scheduled to meet with gun rights activists, law enforcement and election officials this week to discuss the law.

Kennedy was allowed three minutes to speak before the commission during public comments June 9, saying polling places in Shelby County were not considered courthouses prior to the June 3 primary. Kennedy later cited the actions of Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart and Probate Judge Brandy Clark Easlick, who, after fielding complaints from gun rights activists, determined that state law didn’t prohibit guns from being carried into polling places. Subsequently, ‘no guns allowed’ signs were removed from most polling places in Chambers County June 3.

Commission Chairwoman Lindsey Allison thanked Kennedy for his comments and said the commission will consult with staff and respond to his concerns.

“Security has been a profound concern of ours. It’s been on the forefront for all of us,” Allison said.

Shelby County Manager Alex Dudchock explained that while the commission sets the polling places, it does not operate and manage the polls. Dudchock said Kennedy will receive written correspondence to his concerns in the coming weeks.