A Georgia Senate committee advanced legislation that would allow Georgians to carry firearms without a license after hearing testimony from gun rights and gun control activists debating the merits of legislation that’s a stated priority for top Republican officials.

Georgia Sen. Jason Anavitarte

Republican Sen. Jason Anavitarte’s so-called constitutional carry act passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 6-3 on a party-line vote, with Democrats denouncing the easing of restrictions on weapons and Republicans arguing for fewer gun restrictions.

This story also appeared in Georgia Recorder

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp emphasized permit-less licenses as his priority for the 2022 session in early January, and Anavitarte’s measure, first filed in 2021, has the backing of 31 Republican senators. The bill now goes before the Senate Rules Committee, which decides if the proposal will make it to the floor.

Anavitarte said Tuesday that the bill does not change any current laws that govern the purchase or ownership of firearms, including the right of private businesses and property owners to prohibit firearms on their propertie

“The requirement to have a permit does not deter nor decentivize a criminal from carrying a firearm concealed,” said the Dallas senator. “They will do it regardless. Permit-less carry gives criminals a reason to fear that any potential victim could be armed.”

“I know there’s going to be discussion that this law has the potential to put all sorts of new guns and weapons on the streets,” Anavitarte said. “I will tell you that’s patently false.”

Last year, a bill to expand gun rights faltered after a deadly shooting spree at Asian American-owned spas in Cherokee County and Atlanta shocked the nation.

Twenty-one states do not require concealed carry permits, including Vermont, Maine and Alaska. Texas and Tennessee passed their laws last year.  

Six states require training to become a legal gun owner. 

Critics argue crime rate will rise

Atlanta Democrat Sen. Elena Parent cited spikes in aggravated assaults with weapons in the year following the passage of similar laws in Arizona and Alaska.

She questioned the need to make it easier for people to carry weapons in a state that does not require universal background checks.

Georgia now requires a background check to be completed before a carry permit can be issued.

“Why are you presenting a bill that would remove one of the very small checks we have in a statewide system of incredibly lax gun laws where we enable criminals and other people that should not have them to have them?” Parent said.

Gun control groups, such as Moms Demand Action, accuse Georgia lawmakers of weakening gun laws in a state where about 1,700 people are killed by guns each year. Law enforcement officials’ reactions are varied, with the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association not taking a position.

Supporters: Permits stymie law-abiding citizens

Vidalia Republican Sen. Blake Tillery said most people going through the legal permitting process are law-abiding citizens.

“They don’t have a gang sign-up date to get a concealed carry permit,” he said. “If they do I’m sure law enforcement is tracking them and going to lock them up.”

While supporters of the measure called it “constitutional carry,” that is a political term and not a legal one, according to Georgia State University constitutional law professor Anthony Michael Kreis.

“The Supreme Court has made it clear in recent cases that the right to possess firearms is an individual right,” he said. 

There are pending federal cases that will help define what kind of regulations states and localities can impose, Kreis said.

Georgia resident Bentley Hudgens, a Democratic candidate for a suburban Atlanta House district, said he knows several people who have been victims of violent crimes and that there have been too many mass shootings due to the widespread availability of firearms.

“It is becoming normalized for our children to fear that one day their own school will be another Columbine, Sandy Hook, Red Lake, Virginia Tech, or any of the other schools in Georgia that have faced gun violence,” the Mercer University graduate said.

More gun bills await action

The permit-less carry bill was one of several gun-related bills passed by a Senate committee on Tuesday.

Cataula Republican Sen. Randy Robertson said his Senate Bill 245 gives  police chiefs and sheriffs the latitude to prevent the enforcement of federal law that restricts Georgia’s right to bear firearms.

“This is to prevent overly aggressive political activists who may hold federal office, whether they be Republican or Democrat, to be able to pass executive orders that would require or ask state law enforcement agencies to direct their personnel to take away firearms that are legally owned by Georgia citizens,” Robertson said at Tuesday’s Senate Public Safety Committee meeting.

Sen. Kim Jackson, a Stone Mountain Democrat, questioned the bill challenging a potential federal edict.

“This bill would allow law enforcement agencies and officers in Georgia to tell officers, ‘Do not do your job that the Congress has designated for you to do,’” Jackson said.

Another bill that the Public Safety moved ahead includes a provision that would block court or law enforcement agencies from sharing their gun permit databases with outside organizations 

Senate Bill 259’s sponsor is Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis and is supported by gun rights advocates GA2A, formerly known as Georgia Carry.

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