ATLANTA – Georgians would be able to carry firearms without a permit under controversial legislation the Republican-controlled state Senate passed Monday.

This story also appeared in Capitol Beat News Service

Supporters said Senate Bill 319, which passed 34-22 along party lines, wouldn’t change state laws governing who can possess guns or where they can carry them.

“This law is simply to remove an unnecessary burden from law-abiding citizens,” said Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, the bill’s chief sponsor. “Criminals do not care about a carry permit.”

Senate Democrats cited statistics documenting a sharp rise in violent crime in Georgia during the last decade, which they blamed on the easy accessibility of guns.

“Access to firearms increases the likelihood of suicide,” said Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain. “The presence of a firearm in a domestic violence incident raises the likelihood of homicide, no matter who owns the gun.”

Senators defeated an amendment introduced by Sen. Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek, to require background checks of Georgians seeking to buy firearms in private transactions, including at gun shows or flea markets. Current state law only covers guns bought from firearms retailers.

“The amendment would close a loophole,” she said.

Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, accused Republicans of pushing “cultural wedge issues” like enhancing gun rights during this election-year session to gain votes.

“This is a dangerous agenda of right-wing gun groups,” she said. “We have a majority that is in thrall to gun extremists.”

Both sides brought other issues into Monday’s debate. Democrats criticized Republicans for seeking to drop restrictions on guns to protect the Second Amendment while pushing to make voting – another constitutional right – more difficult.

Republicans brought up the courageous defense of their country Ukrainians are putting up against invading Russians.

“What would a Ukrainian citizen say about their right to bear arms?” asked Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan.

The bill now moves to the Georgia House of Representatives.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Dave Williams/Capitol Beat

Dave Williams is bureau chief for Capitol Beat News Service, a service of the Georgia Press Education Foundation.