Georgia’s new gun law has gotten a lot of attention, much of it negative. The law, which will go into effect July 1, expands the number of public places where guns, under certain circumstances, are allowed. Among those places are bars, churches, public housing, schools and government buildings that don’t have metal detectors. The bill also restricts when and how police are allowed to stop and ask someone why they are carrying a gun.
Critics of the law call it “extreme” and refer to the bill as the “guns everywhere” legislation. Among critics are a number of law enforcement officials and many local government agencies.
Proponents of the bill say it’s needed for self-defense and to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens under the Second Amendment.
So who’s right in all of this?
Maybe both sides are right and wrong.
First, the bill only applies to those who have a Georgia carry license. Just because you own a gun won’t give you the right to carry it into a bar or a city hall unless you have a permit. And bars have the right to ban guns on their premises while churches have to give permission for guns in their places of worship.
However, critics point out that having a permit under this law won’t mean anything. Another provision of the law prevents law enforcement officials from stopping and asking someone carrying a gun if they have a permit.
Norcross police chief Warren Summers gave a good example of this dilemma in a recent CNN column:
“Picture this: It’s a pleasant summer day. The kids are out of school, and you’ve decided to take them to the local park. You’re sitting on a park bench in the shade, watching them play, when you suddenly notice a man dressed in a heavy winter coat approaching the playground. As he scurries past you, you notice a handgun strapped around his waistband. Alarmed? You should be. Who is this man, and why is he armed at your children’s playground? Concerned enough to call the local police?
“Not a bad idea, but here is the problem. Starting July 1, law enforcement in Georgia will not be able do much for you. As a matter of fact, they could get sued if they detain the man you called about and ask him whether he has a valid weapons carry license. That’s because, under Georgia’s revised Safe Carry Protection Act, it is prohibited for police to detain someone for the purpose of checking for a license.”
So while the law gives the veneer that only law-abiding citizens will be able to carry guns into public places, the reality may be different.
Here’s another potential situation that would be difficult to deal with:
Suppose a large man wearing a sidearm walks into a small town city hall that doesn’t have a metal detector and demands to see the mayor. The man is carrying a piece of paper and is obviously upset about a bill or some other city-related issue. The police have no legal power to stop the man or ask to see his gun permit.
If you were the mayor, would you want to meet with an armed man who was obviously upset? Will mayors and other small town officials have to start packing heat?
The law has some other strange quirks as well. For example, it would allow a convicted felon to use a gun in self-defense. But convicted felons aren’t supposed to have guns, so how can they use something they aren’t allowed to possess for self-defense? The new law doesn’t answer that.
Critics of the new Georgia law say it is an extreme example of our gun culture.
Maybe, but it’s also an obvious backlash against efforts to tightly regulate gun ownership and possession. The new law is in part an answer to those who wish to rewrite the Second Amendment and severely limit gun ownership even among those who are law-abiding.
This ban-the-gun movement has gotten momentum in recent years after high-profile school shootings and the shooting of a politician by a mentally ill man. Those tragic events have fueled a movement to restrict gun ownership.
Undoubtedly, people are much more gun-sensitive now than they were a few decades ago. When I was a teen, I’d often walk down the road from my house with my dog at my side and a gun on my shoulder to hunt quail in some nearby fields. My deer hunting buddies often had a rifle on a rack in their pickup truck at school.
Today, a man walking down the road with a gun or a kid with a rifle in a vehicle on a school campus would draw a swarm of law enforcement officers, SWAT teams and bomb squads. The world has changed.
I still own guns. I like guns. Although I don’t hunt any longer (all the quail have been chased out of North Georgia by hawks), I do enjoy target shooting with various kinds of guns.
And there are areas in Georgia where I’d want a gun in my pocket if I were walking the street. There are places in downtown Atlanta that are extremely unsafe after dark. There’s nothing wrong with using a gun in self-defense of one’s home or person.
In addition, laws that attempt to restrict gun ownership or possession never work. Ask those living in Detroit, or Washington D.C. where the murder rate by guns is high despite restrictions.
In the real world, there is no way to restrict gun ownership without creating a police state that tramples on our individual rights.
Despite my belief in gun ownership and the Second Amendment, there’s something about the intent of this new Georgia law that doesn’t make sense.
For one thing, if police aren’t allowed to check for a valid gun permit of those carrying a weapon in a public place, then having a permit becomes meaningless. If a man carrying a gun is walking around a playground full of children, shouldn’t police be able to ask to see his carry permit to make sure he isn’t a crackpot? Why have any permit process at all if it can’t be checked?
Even worse, the law seems designed to encourage people to carry guns into places where they really aren’t necessary. If you feel the need to carry a gun into a church or bar, maybe you need to find different praying and drinking establishments. (And any drinking establishment that would encourage patrons to bring a gun is a bar I never want to enter.)
Still, the new Georgia gun law won’t impact most of us. Even with this law, most people aren’t going to pack heat at church, at city hall or into bars. It won’t change the behavior for most average citizens who have more important things to do.
It could, however, encourage a few gun fanatics to dress like Wyatt Earp. (Perhaps lost through time and myth, Earp and his cohorts were actually trying to enforce Tombstone’s gun control law when they stumbled into the famous shootout at the OK Corral.)
So if Georgia’s new law won’t change very much for most citizens, why was it passed?
In a word, politics. It was meant as a middle-finger salute to the Obama Administration.
It was meant to provoke controversy and rile up those who push for restrictive gun laws.
It was meant to spark a political confrontation during an election year.
OK, we get it. Piss on the liberals and show them this is by-god-gun-loving Georgia!
But let’s hope the rhetoric about the law doesn’t fuel phantoms of the crazies in our society, people who may misinterpret it as carte blanche for confrontations of another kind.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers, Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.