ATLANTA – After years of unsuccessful efforts, gun rights advocates have never been closer to convincing the General Assembly to pass legislation letting Georgians carry concealed firearms without a permit.
“To build a safer, stronger Georgia, we must ensure every Georgian feels safe and secure in their communities,” Gov. Brian Kemp said during his State of the State address last month.
“I believe that starts with fully recognizing the constitutional rights granted to law-abiding Georgians in our founding documents, and I look forward to supporting constitutional carry legislation this session.”
The constitutional carry bill, sponsored by Sen. Jason Anavitarte, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee Feb. 2 along party lines, with six Republican senators supporting it and three Democrats opposed. Its next stop will be the Senate Rules Committee, which is expected to send it to the floor of the chamber for a vote of the full Senate.
“Our organization is grateful for Senator Anavitarte and his unapologetic support of the Second Amendment,” Jerry Henry, executive director of the Georgia gun rights group GA2A, said in a statement issued after the committee vote. “We are one step closer to restoring the constitutional rights afforded to every law-abiding citizen in Georgia.”
Legislative Democrats oppose Senate Bill 319 not only as an individual proposal but as part of a broader election-year push by Republicans to pass a laundry list of bills aimed at appealing to GOP base voters.
In the case of the gun bill, Democrats say allowing Georgians to carry guns without a permit would increase violent crime. In 2020, at least 5,000 Georgians were denied a firearms permit because of a criminal history, a track record that would have gone undiscovered had no permit application been required.
“Why would we want to make it easier for those criminals to carry firearms?” Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, asked during the Judiciary Committee meeting.
Republicans counter that requiring permits to carry guns only affects law-abiding Georgians because criminals don’t bother to apply for permits.
“The folks who are burdened by this process are those who are obeying the law,” said Sen. Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia.
Anavitarte, R-Dallas, said Senate Bill 319 would not change the laws governing who can carry firearms in Georgia or where they can bring them. It only pertains to the permitting process, he said.
Anavitarte said 21 states have adopted constitutional carry laws, including Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, statistically among the states safest from violent crime.
“In most [states with constitutional carry], crime has decreased or remained flat,” he said. “The bill puts law-abiding gun owners on an even playing field with criminals.”
But opponents argue that kind of Wild West mentality where everyone is packing a weapon is not popular with law enforcement agencies.
Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant expressed concern about the proliferation of guns on the streets of Georgia’s capital city last month after a 6-month-old baby was shot.
“Guns intensify violent encounters … upping the stakes and worsening the outcome,” Parent said.
But gun rights advocates say the right to privacy from government intrusion is at stake.
“This is about freedom,” Aaron Dorr of Georgia Gun Owners told members of the Judiciary Committee. “It’s about [gun owners] not having to put their name in a database and be tracked by the government.”
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.