BY: ROSS WILLIAMS – DECEMBER 28, 2021 1:00 AM
Each new legislative session brings the opportunity for lawmakers to bring home a victory for their constituents, and for Georgia Republicans, passing an expansion of gun rights in 2022 could be just the thing to make their base happy in an election year.
The General Assembly declined to pass new firearm legislation last session, though it did come close with a gun rights bill written by Cherokee Republican Rep. Mandi Ballinger. Among that bill’s provisions are an expansion of firearm license reciprocity with other states and a restriction of the powers of Georgia governors to curtail gun rights under states of emergency.
Ballinger’s bill passed both chambers, but the Senate version was amended in committee, which meant the House would have needed to vote on the bill again. That never happened, and House Speaker David Ralston later told reporters a deadly shooting spree at Asian-American owned spas in Cherokee County and Atlanta shortly before the end of the session factored into that decision.
The shooting sparked grief and anger among lawmakers.
“Frankly, I thought we needed to be very, very sensitive to any gun legislation,” the Blue Ridge Republican said following the close of the 2021 session. “You know, we’re less than two weeks out from two major mass killings and so that heightens my level of sensitivity to that.”
But the bill could get a second chance when the House and Senate gavel into session in January, and lawmakers could also set their sights higher, said Rep. Philip Singleton, a Sharpsburg Republican and a founding member of the Georgia Freedom Caucus.
“Mandi’s bill, in my opinion, could have been stronger, obviously I would have taken it over nothing,” he said. “We have a Second Amendment Protection Act bill, SAPA, which has passed in seven other states, that I’d like to get passed in Georgia, and then there’s constitutional carry, two different versions of that floating around. I think you’re definitely going to see some gun legislation this year. It’s too early to tell with the session not started how that’s going to manifest, how that’s going to look, but that is something the Freedom Caucus and our network of allies – we have allies that aren’t necessarily part of the caucus – will work to get passed.”
Lawmakers in the House and Senate filed so-called constitutional carry bills last year that will remain alive in 2022. They would remove the requirement for Georgians to have a permit to carry weapons.
Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is a GOP candidate for governor, has announced his support for constitutional carry.
“Law-abiding citizens should be able to exercise their Second Amendment rights to carry a firearm without having to pay for and carry a government permit,” Perdue said in a Dec. 20 statement. “Twenty-one states have constitutional carry, but despite his promises on the campaign trail, Brian Kemp has failed to make it a reality in Georgia. As Governor, I’ll work with the state legislature to finally enact constitutional carry.”
Georgians are now required to hold a Weapons Carry License to carry a concealed weapon. That requires a valid Georgia ID, fingerprinting, a background check, and that most owners be at least 21.
Gov. Brian Kemp, also a Republican, ran a pro-Second Amendment campaign in 2018, gaining national attention for one ad in which he jokingly brandished a shotgun at a young man who said wanted to date one of Kemp’s daughters.
Missouri’s state legislature passed a pair of bills called the Second Amendment Preservation Act earlier this year. The law bars state and local law enforcement from enforcing federal laws on firearms.
Though the newly hatched Georgia Freedom Caucus might see a major expansion of Second Amendment rights as a good way to spread its wings, Ralston will have the final say, and he might not think a gun right expansion should be a priority this year, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.
“There’s little doubt it will be introduced, but the odds of it passing really depend on what the Speaker thinks about it,” he said. “I don’t think he’s eager to push the envelope. So let folks introduce that, talk about it, then maybe it dies in Judiciary Committee, something like that.”
Ralston told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he is open to constitutional carry, but he said it would be an ongoing discussion and the scope of the bill could be up for debate.
Ballinger’s bill could have a better chance, but Bullock said he’s not convinced.
“We’ve got two senators running for lieutenant governor who will probably be vying with each other to see who can go a step further than one another,” he said. “So, I think the real challenge will be getting it out of the House.”
“I don’t know, the fact that a shooting derailed something like that, who knows, we could unfortunately have another event like that happen again,” he added. “What it does show is that the Speaker is not fully committed to it.”
One recent mass shooting happened Nov. 30 at a high school in Oxford, Michigan, where four people were killed and seven were wounded before a suspect was arrested. On the same day, a Clayton County police officer was shot and killed while investigating a domestic disturbance call along with two women and a male suspect.
The next day, Georgia Rep. Lucy McBath, a Marietta Democrat, urged her colleagues to pass gun safety legislation in a U.S. House floor speech invoking the deadly high school shooting.
“Do you have the courage to do that, to feel what it might be like to bury your own child? To suffer with your God day after day to make sense of the senseless, unnecessary gun violence?” McBath said. “Do you have the courage? Do you, this body, have the courage to do what is right to save our children and to protect our families? And if not, do you really, truly have the courage to look away?”
McBath, whose son was murdered in 2012, became a gun safety advocate before running for a suburban Atlanta House seat in 2018. In office, she has backed legislation aimed at preventing gun violence through measures like expanded background checks and red flag laws.
A McBath-cosponsored bill that would require background checks for gun sales between private parties passed the House earlier this year, but it is likely to face headwinds in the Senate, where Democrats lead by the thinnest of margins.
Democrats in the state Legislature may also seek to bring up gun safety legislation when lawmakers return to the Gold Dome next month for the 2022 legislative session.
Notably, Democrats in the state House and Senate filed a pair of bills that would require a five-day waiting period for all gun purchases.
Those bills will still be alive when lawmakers return to Atlanta in January, but the odds of them becoming law in Georgia appear slim.