By MIKE CHAMBERS
The Associated Press
(Published: June 12, 2003)
JUNEAU -- Alaskans will no longer need a permit to carry a concealed weapon under a bill signed into law Wednesday.
In signing the bill, Gov. Frank Murkowski lauded the work of the Legislature and the National Rifle Association in protecting the Second Amendment rights of Alaskans.
The bill would adopt the so-called "Vermont Carry" law that allows residents to carry a concealed weapon without a special permit. Vermont has no laws against carrying concealed weapons, the governor's office said.
In Alaska, someone who applies for a concealed handgun permit is required to take a handgun course certified by the state Department of Public Safety.
Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, said he sponsored the bill out of frustration with continually fine-tuning the state's gun laws.
"I object to the government putting a precondition on that constitutional right (to carry a weapon). I'm presumed to be a responsible citizen until proven otherwise," Croft said.
House Bill 102 does not eliminate the state's concealed handgun permit program. The governor's office said Alaskans could still apply for a permit in order to carry a concealed weapon in other states or to be exempt from background checks when purchasing firearms.
But the bill, which takes effect in 90 days, would allow Alaskans who can legally carry a firearm to carry it concealed without such a permit.
It does not change prohibitions against carrying firearms into courthouses, school yards, bars and domestic violence shelters.
About 17,000 concealed handgun permits have been issued in Alaska, said Greg Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Alaska State Troopers.
The measure will aid gun owners particularly in rural areas where handgun safety courses may not be readily available, Croft said.
While the measure won broad support among lawmakers -- more than half in the 60-member Legislature signed on as co-sponsors -- it did have its detractors.
Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, was among 10 lawmakers voting against the bill. Bunde said current Alaska law requires someone to understand their legal obligations and demonstrate proficiency before receiving a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
He said people often misuse handguns because of a lack of firearm education and training.
"I am a strong gun advocate and very concerned that every time someone misuses a gun, particularly a handgun, we lose in the court of public opinion," Bunde said.
Also signed into law was a bill to require the state Department of Public Safety to recognize all concealed carry permits issued in other states.
The gun bills were among nearly a dozen new laws signed by Murkowski during a ceremony in Wasilla. Some of the highlights:
• Senate Bill 41 would create a new law crafted specifically to target Medicaid fraud. Overpayments and fraud are estimated to cost the state between $70 million and $170 million each year.
• House Bill 267 expands the bonding power of the Alaska Railroad Corp. to allow it to issue up to $17 billion in tax-exempt bonds for a natural gas pipeline.
• Senate Bill 26 allows state employees called to active military service to continue receiving pay and benefits. It is retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001.
• Senate Bill 177 also allows retired state employees to continue to receive a 10 percent Alaska cost of living allowance if called to active duty.
• And Senate Bill 148 allows eligible Alaskans on active duty to be gone from the state longer and still receive a Permanent Fund dividend check. It lengthens the time they and their spouses are allowed to be gone from the state to 180 days, in addition to their time on active duty. The current restriction is 45 days.