The House approved a measure that would nix the requirement for someone to have a state license to carry a firearm.

This story also appeared in Georgia Recorder

The bill passed late Friday with a 94-57 vote that fell along party lines after a spirited hourlong debate. The Senate passed its version of a permit-less carry bill early this month, all but assuring some version of the proposal will land on the governor’s desk.

Gov. Brian Kemp, who is in a heated GOP primary contest, has pledged to sign a “constitutional carry” bill – a commitment he reiterated in a speech after officially qualifying to run for re-election this week.

“We live in precarious times,” said the bill’s sponsor, Canton Republican state Rep. Mandi Ballinger. “There’s evil in the world. We need to protect ourselves. And this bill allows us to do so without having to pay money to the government to do it.”

Ballinger argued Georgia residents are not required to have a license to exercise their other constitutional rights.

Rep. Shea Roberts, at Atlanta Democrat, accused Republicans of wanting to relax what limited checks are currently in place for firearms.

“I’ve got to ask you: If you thought filling out that little piece of paper might stop a non-law-abiding citizen or somebody with a mental health history from hurting one child in the state, wouldn’t you just prioritize filling out the paper instead of the inconvenience?” Robert said.

And Sandy Springs Democratic state Rep. Josh McLaurin noted similar proposals have been filed in recent years, only to go nowhere. He pressed Republicans on what had changed this year.

“Did y’all care about freedom in 2019? Did you care about liberty in 2020? Or did you just figure it out this year?” McLaurin said to his colleagues.

McLaurin’s appearance at the microphone was also meant to be symbolic. McLaurin and the other Democrats who spoke against the measure were part of the so-called blue wave in 2018 that quickly shrunk the GOP’s majority in the House. Roberts flipped a seat in 2020.

“Every Democrat who spoke from the well tonight flipped one of your seats on the message that the public doesn’t want stuff like this,” he said, calling it “drift-right BS” meant to appeal to the Republican base.

But to his question of why pass a permit-less carry bill now, some Republicans offered answers.

Rep. J. Collins of Villa Rica, who chairs the committee that advanced the bill, recalled images on his TV of Atlanta “burning.” A Wendy’s in southwest Atlanta was burned down during protests following the shooting death of Rashard Brooks in June 2020.

Collins said concerned constituents tried to apply for a license only to find the local probate office was “shut down,” an apparent reference to the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions.

“So yeah, my mind was changed about constitutional carry,” Collins said.

Rep. Alan Powell, a long-time supporter of expanded gun laws, offered a more pragmatic explanation.

“We never had a governor that promoted permit-less carry or ‘constitutional care,’” the Hartwell Republican said.

“There’s a lot of members of this House that’s always been Second Amendment strong,” he added. “But if you don’t have a governor that says he’ll support the bill, we’re not going to pass a bill he’s going to veto. That’d be crazy. So, we now have a governor who has said that he will support permit-less carry. That’s the difference, ladies and gentlemen.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing...