Concealed weapons bill heads to governor’s desk

by Robin Kemp

Georgia is about to become the latest state to pass “constitutional carry” law, which eliminates the requirement for gun owners who want to carry concealed to get a Georgia Weapons Carry License.

Once the bill becomes law, Georgia will be the 25th state to pass constitutional carry. The NRA has been pushing for constitutional carry in all 50 states since 1989.

Proponents of SB 319 say any government regulation of firearms is unconstitutional and violates the Second Amendment. Opponents say that’s a misinterpretation of the Second Amendment and that eliminating WCLs will make police encounters with legally-armed citizens more dangerous.

Earlier in the session, gun-rights lobbyists got into skirmishes over the progress of SB 319, with Rules Chair Sen. Jeff Mullis taking to the well to complain about Georgia Gun Owners and state his preference for working with GeorgiaCarry.org and the NRA.

Backers

The NRA-ILA, which is the legislative arm of the National Rifle Association, thanked Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-23, Canton), Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R-31, Dallas), House Speaker David Ralston (R-7, Blue Ridge), Rep. Alan Powell (R-32, Hartwell), Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-11, Jasper), Rep. J. Collins (R-68, Villa Rica), Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller (R-49, Gainesville), and Sen. Brian Strickland (R-17, McDonough) for their support of the bill.

Gov. Brian Kemp applauded the bill’s passage:

Jason Ouimet, executive director of NRA-ILA, said, “This is a monumental moment for the Second Amendment, NRA members and gun owners nationwide. Half the country now rightfully recognizes the fundamental right to carry a firearm for self-defense as enshrined in our Constitution–as opposed to a government privilege that citizens must ask permission to exercise. Passing this essential legislation has been a priority for the NRA for many years, and we’re thrilled to celebrate this huge success.”

Opponents

Rep. Yasmin Neal, a former Clayton County Police officer and detective, was among those who opposed the bill.

Rep. Yasmin Neal (D-74, Jonesboro)

“States that have passed permitless carry laws saw aggravated assaults with a gun spike by up to 65 percent, and states that weakened their gun permitting systems have seen a 15 percent increase in violent crime,” Neal said. “The data shows it clearly — this is a dangerous proposal that will bring more guns to our streets and more gun violence to our communities. Georgia already has the 17th highest rate of gun deaths in the nation, and our rate of gun deaths increased by 20 percent from 2009 to 2018. We cannot afford to weaken gun safety laws. Our communities cannot afford it. Now, as a former police officer and detective with the Clayton County Police Department, I know firsthand the threats our officers face on a daily basis — and I can tell you from experience, this legislation will only increase that danger.”

Democratic Caucus Chair Sen. Elena Parent (D-42, Atlanta), who also opposed the bill, said, “Both [Gov. Brian] Kemp and [gubernatorial candidiate David] Perdue support this extreme permitless carry legislation, which will actually make it easier for criminals to get their hands on guns. Under the current law, anyone who wants to carry a concealed firearm must undergo a background check — this dangerous permitless-carry bill would create a new loophole by eliminating that requirement. That means this legislation would potentially allow individuals with a criminal history who purchased a gun through a private sale to now legally carry a hidden, loaded weapon in our communities. If Kemp’s permitless carry legislation becomes law, there will be no mechanism to prevent those denied applicants from now being able to carry a weapon in public. Neither the bill authors nor the governor have adequately addressed this issue.”

Georgia Carry said that Parent “intentionally misrepresent[ed] the law”: “A person who is ineligible to possess a firearm under federal law commits a 10-year federal felony when he buys a gun at a private sale. Under current law, he commits a state misdemeanor if he carries the gun in public without a license. If permitless carry passes, the same person still would be committing a state misdemeanor (albeit a different one) if he carried the gun in public.”

The International Association of Chiefs of Police “opposes any federal legislative proposals that would either pre-empt and/or mandate the liberalization of individual states’ concealed-carry weapons (CCW) laws pertaining to the carrying of concealed weapons in other states without meeting that state’s requirements.”

IACP’s position is that “the responsibility of carrying a concealed weapon should include a minimum of familiarization and training with the weapon carried, basic instruction on the fundamentals of carrying a concealed weapon, and understanding of when the use of a concealed weapon is legal and/or advisable. Therefore, the IACP continues to oppose legislation that provide concealed carry permit holders with immunity from arrest or detention for violation of any law or any rule or regulation of a state or any political subdivision thereof related to the possession, transportation, or carrying of firearms.”

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, Georgia ranks 9th in the nation for gun violence and firearms injuries are the number one cause of death for children in Georgia.

The importance of training

Georgia, like many gun-friendly states, does not require handgun owners to demonstrate basic proficiency or pass any kind of test to show what they know about Georgia firearms laws. That means anyone in Georgia who is legally allowed to own a handgun can buy one and carry it, open or concealed, without any experience, training, or insurance whatsoever. A “lawful weapons carrier” in Georgia is not required to know the basics of Georgia firearms law, how their weapon works, or show that they can hit a target. Law enforcement officers must score at least 80 percent for Georgia POST service firearm certification.

Target practice at Range, Guns and Safes, Forest Park, GA. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

The Liberal Gun Club backs mandatory safety testing as a condition for any concealed carry permit. “Demonstrating proficiency is less expensive for the applicant than mandatory training, we believe this mitigates any arbitrary financial barriers to a permitting process. So long as permits are the law of the land, there should be some uniformity to them, allowing for a national reciprocity framework.”

Various organizations offer such training, which is completely voluntary, including LGC, the NRA, the Civilian Marksmanship Program, U.S. Concealed Carry Association, Operation Blazing Sword, and the National African American Gun Association. Safety courses are offered at local gun ranges like Range Guns and Safes or Stoddards. Some classes are little more than basic instruction on how to hold, aim, and fire a gun. Others are more structured, with certified instructors and progression through several levels. Ask about the instructor’s qualifications and how long they’ve been teaching.

In 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,898 people in Georgia died from gunshot wounds. The trend since 2014 has been steadily upward:

While these numbers are not correlated with WCL permit holders, law enforcement officials say they’re worried that more untrained people will have access to firearms–and that that could lead to more firearms-related injuries and deaths.

Recently, the Forest Park Police Department held several free gun safety workshops. The events were not for people to come and learn how to shoot. They were to explain Georgia laws related to firearms, as well as let current and prospective gun owners know about safety tips and different ways to store their weapons.

Some of those tips include:

  • Treat every gun as if it were loaded.
  • Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Never point it at anything you aren’t willing to destroy.
  • Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  • Know where your target is and what is beyond your target. If you aim at something, are other people behind it?
  • Always keep your gun unloaded until you are ready to use it. Do not store your ammunition with your gun.
  • Don’t rely on the safety switch: you might forget to turn it on or off, and it might break.
  • Don’t use the wrong caliber of ammunition. You could blow up your gun (and your hand).
  • Keep your gun out of the reach of anyone who is not authorized to use it–especially kids, including those who might visit your house.

One consideration that many gun owners don’t think about is what happens once the bullet leaves the gun. If you pull the trigger, you are responsible for whatever that bullet strikes. For example, say you are a legal gun owner in a parking lot or store or restaurant. You see someone else with a gun trying to hold up the cash register or attack someone else. If you pull your gun and shoot, will you hit someone else running by or huddled behind a counter?

More often, though, people are shot during “accidental” or negligent discharges–that is, someone failed to follow basic safety precautions.

“Learn the operation of a firearm before attempting to use it,” Sgt. R. Meehan told about a dozen people gathered in the courtroom.

A common mistake, according to Meehan, is when pistol users remove the magazine from the gun and think it’s not loaded. It’s critical to pull back the slide while keeping your finger off the trigger and pointing the pistol in a safe direction. That way, any round in the chamber will be ejected. Only when you can see and feel that no round remains inside the body of the gun is it then safe to handle.

Weapons carry licenses still available

One advantage of having a Georgia WCL is that it makes it easier for gun owners to travel out of state with their firearms. Because gun laws vary from state to state, it’s important to know which laws apply along a gun owner’s travel route. The Georgia WCL is recognized in 32 other states that have reciprocity agreements with Georgia.

By comparison, 24 states other than Georgia have passed constitutional carry.

Legal gun owners would still be able to apply for a Georgia WCL under the new law.

What the bill does

Removing the WCL requirement for concealed carry is only one change the bill makes to state firearms laws. It also:

  • allows “lawful weapons carriers” to carry long guns–meaning rifles and shotguns–in Georgia state parks, historic sites, and recreational areas. Previously, only handguns were allowed in these places. That includes “all publicly owned buildings located in such parks, historic sites, and recreational areas, in wildlife management areas, and on public transportation; provided, however, that a person shall not carry a handgun into a place where it is prohibited by federal law.”
  • defines “lawful weapons carrier” as “any person who is licensed or eligible for a license
    pursuant to Code Section 16-11-129 and who is not otherwise prohibited by law from possessing a weapon or long gun, any resident of any other state who would otherwise be eligible to obtain a license pursuant to such Code section but for the residency requirement, and any person licensed to carry a weapon in any other state.”
  • allows “lawful weapons carriers” to “have or carry on his or her person a weapon or long gun on his or her property or inside his or her home, motor vehicle, or place of business.”
  • allows “lawful weapons carriers” to carry long guns that are both loaded and concealed
  • drops the requirement to transport a handgun unloaded and in a case
  • allows “lawful weapons carriers” to carry handguns in private vehicles, unless the owner or person who is in charge of the car forbids it. Specifically, “private property owners or persons in legal control of private property through a lease, rental agreement, licensing agreement, contract, or any other agreement to control access to such private property shall have the right to exclude or eject a person who is in possession of a weapon or long gun on their private property in accordance with paragraph (3) of subsection (b) of Code Section 16-7-21, except as provided in Code Section 16-11-135.”
  • ends the 90-day deadline for licensed weapons owners who move to Georgia from another state to get a Georgia WCL
  • allows people with a valid hunting or fishing license to carry “a weapon or long gun” without a Georgia WCL

The new law also sets out penalties for people who are “unlawful weapons carriers”:

  • First conviction is a misdemeanor.
  • Second offense within five years and any subsequent offense is a felony with two to five years in prison.

Can I bring my gun to…?

None of what follows is legal advice–it’s a reading of the bill text as passed.

In addition, the law forbids people who are not “lawful weapons carrier” from bringing their firearm to a government building. However, that doesn’t mean “lawful weapons carriers” can pack in the courthouse or at city council.

Courthouses, jails, prisons, places of worship (unless allowed), state mental health facilities, nuclear power plants, and the area within 150 feet of an active polling place are all off limits. Those who violate the law face a misdemeanor conviction. So is any private property where the owner or other person who controls the property (like a renter) forbids it.

If you are a “lawful weapons carrier” who “approaches security or management personnel upon arrival at a location described in subsection (b) of this Code section and notifies such security or management personnel of the presence of the weapon or long gun and explicitly follows the security or management personnel’s direction for removing, securing, storing, or temporarily surrendering such weapon or long gun,” then you would avoid a misdemeanor charge under the new law as written.

What if you forget to take off your concealed weapon before entering a government building with security screening and at least one sworn law enforcement official? A “lawful weapons carrier” will be allowed to leave the building. An “unlawful weapons carrier” will be charged with a misdemeanor.

A “lawful weapons carrier” who packs in a church that forbids firearms won’t be arrested–but will have to pay a $100 fine. An “unlawful weapons carrier” will be charged with a misdemeanor.

What’s not clear is how, in practice, police will be able to tell the “lawful weapons carrier” from the unlawful.


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Robin Kemp

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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