BY: STANLEY DUNLAP – MARCH 1, 2022 1:00 AM
Georgia Republicans legislators moved a step closer to ending concealed carry license requirements after rejecting Democrats’ requests to expand background checks on Monday.
The “Constitutional Carry of Act 2021” now heads to the House chamber after advancing in the Senate on Monday with a 31-22 vote following more than an hour of debate among GOP lawmakers who argued for less government control while Democrats contended lax laws are already contributing to gun violence in the state.
Senate Bill 319’s sponsor, Dallas Sen. Jason Anavitarte, said permit-less carry eliminates the need for law-abiding Georgians to go through a review in local probate courts to obtain a license and pay a fee.
“If you’re going to tell young moms, families in the suburbs of Atlanta or the city of Atlanta, or in West Georgia, or Valdosta, Augusta or Savannah that they’re extremists because they want to protect their families in this day and age, then maybe you need to rethink your priorities of what we’re doing for Georgia families in the Capitol,” Anavitarte said.
The permit-less gun bill passed after Senate Republicans voted down an amendment from Johns Creek Democratic Sen. Michelle Au calling for mandatory state background checks for all firearm purchases, not just at retailers.
Federal law requires licensed gun dealers to perform a background check on prospective purchasers in order to determine if they can legally purchase a firearm. Unlicensed dealers, however, such as those selling guns at gun shows, online, or privately, are not required to perform the same background checks.
As a result of loopholes in gun laws, Senate Democrats argued, more people with felony convictions and domestic violence protective orders can avoid having their criminal histories checked by dealers.
Atlanta Democrat Sen. Elena Parent cited a Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia report that at least 5,200 weapons carry permits were denied over a year period, mostly because of prior criminal convictions.
“With this bill, the immediate effect is that we make it easier for criminals to have guns, make it easier for there to be bad guys with guns,” said Parent. “And this whole good guy with a gun thing is so infuriating, because don’t forget everyone is a good guy with a gun before they commit their first crime.”
Sen. Nan Orrock, a Democrat from Atlanta, said Republican officials are trying to appease an extreme wing of their constituency during this election year. The National Rifle Association and GA2A, a statewide organization, support concealed carry.
“It’s true, is it not, that gun violence in Georgia is through the roof,” Orrock said.
Senators also passed Senate Bill 479, which adds a separate criminal charge for each firearm possessed by convicted felons. And Senate Bill 259 legislation prohibits courts and law enforcement agencies from sharing gun permit databases with outside organizations.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp emphasized permit-less licenses as his priority for the 2022 session in early January.
Gun legislation was a dominant theme at the State Capitol on Monday with the Senate passing three bills and a House subcommittee holding hearings on a House version of permit-less carry and a bill allowing firearms in churches and other places of worship.
House Bill 1378 would remove the gun ban in places of worship, so that churches and other religious institutions can set their own firearms policies.
At Monday’s House Public Safety subcommittee hearing, GA2A vice-president John Monroe said Georgia is one of six states that criminalizes bringing firearms into churches or other places of worship. The law has been in place since 1871.
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board, which represents 3,000 churches, is also in favor of letting churches decide if weapons can be kept on their property, according to lobbyist Mike Griffin.
“We have worked hard in making sure that the safety issues and security issues are dealt with in our church,” Griffin said.
And Rep. Mandi Ballinger, a Canton Republican and sponsor of permit-less carry legislation H.B. 1358, told committee members Monday that giving all legal gun owners the same rights won’t change the types of places where guns aren’t allowed by law, such as college dorms.
“The idea being that you shouldn’t have to have a card from the government to exercise your Second Amendment rights,” she said.