Georgia gun owners can now carry their firearms in more public places.
But what exactly does new legislation that took effect July 1 say? And what exactly is allowed?
Madison County Sheriff Kip Thomas met with local residents twice recently, June 24 and 26, to offer clarity on what gun owners can now do. Large crowds turned out for sessions at the Ila and Hull Volunteer Fire Departments. Thomas offered an overview of where gun owners can legally carry their weapons, before answering a variety of questions.
He noted that by law a person can already keep a firearm with or without a permit in their home, motor vehicle or in a business they own. And now, House Bill 60, offers more leeway on where those guns can be carried outside of personal property.
For instance, firearms can be taken into government buildings where no security screening is conducted at the entrance. Madison County’s government complex has security personnel and a metal detector at both entrances. So, no citizen is allowed to carry a firearm into the complex. If a permit holder attempts to bring a gun in, he will be given the opportunity to take the weapon back to his vehicle, but a non-permit weapons carrier can be charged with a misdemeanor for attempting to bring the firearm into the complex.
Sheriff Thomas and Sen. Frank Ginn, who was also on hand for the forums, spoke about the distinction between Second Amendment rights and private property rights. Ginn said the legislature expanded Second Amendment rights, but also aimed to give people the opportunity to maintain their property how they choose.
“We worked real hard to make sure we protect your private property rights and also don’t trample on the Second Amendment,” said Ginn. “It’s a very tight rope to walk. If I come over to your house and I have a firearm, and you don’t want me to, don’t you think you ought to have the right on your own property to tell me, hey, I don’t want you with a gun on my property?”
Thomas was asked by an audience member if a firearm can be carried and hidden anywhere in a vehicle by a weapons permit holder.
“When they (the courts) changed that so a vehicle is an extension of your home, that pretty much changed all that,” said Thomas. “You can pretty much put it wherever you want.”
However, a non-permit holder with a firearm in their vehicle is required by law to keep the weapon closed in a case and unloaded.
The sheriff pointed out that guns are forbidden in jails, mental health facilities, nuclear power facilities or within 150 feet of a polling place. But the law does allow for guns in churches, bars, airports and on school property under certain circumstances.
For instance, a church’s governing body may vote for or against allowing guns on their property.
“If you go into a church where they said no, you will be asked to leave and can be fined $100,” said Thomas.
Guns can be taken into bars under the new legislation. Those carrying a gun also don’t have to ask for permission from a bar owner, but if the establishment’s owner decides a person needs to take their gun outside, he or she has the right to demand so. Thomas said an owner is free to pick and choose who can carry a gun in their building.
“It’s not a blanket thing,” he said.
This is true for any private business. A person may carry a gun into a business that is not designated as a no-gun zone by the owner. However, if he or she is asked to take the weapon outside, and refuses, he or she can be arrested. In such instances, private property rights trump Second Amendment rights.
Thomas said no person can take a firearm beyond an airport security checkpoint. However, the new law allows for permit holders to carry a gun in areas of the airport outside of the security checkpoint zone. He noted that a gun carrier with a license is supposed to be given the opportunity to retreat from the security checkpoint without being charged.
“I’m not sure how that will work out with TSA (Transportation Security Administration),” said Thomas. “My suggestion, don’t be the first one to try it.”
A school board may vote to allow certain personnel to handle firearms on school grounds. If a school board takes such a vote, then they must establish who can handle a weapon and how that weapon will be secured. The person designated for the duty must have a permit and be trained with the weapon.
While school personnel can be trained to handle guns in schools for defense purposes, citizens are still forbidden from carrying guns into school facilities — whether that citizen has a weapons permit or not.
“It is still unlawful to take one into a school, license holder or not,” said Thomas. “But if you have a license, you can take one in your vehicle if you’re going there to pick up your child or grandchild from school or a school function. You can have it in your vehicle if you are a license holder. If you are a non-license holder, you are not supposed to have it period in that school safety zone.”
The sheriff said the law includes an exception to the prohibition if a gun is taken onto the grounds with the school’s permission for “classroom work.”
Thomas and Ginn were also asked about whether people can carry guns on university property, which includes over 30 colleges and universities in Georgia.
Ginn said he’s a lifelong National Rifle Association member and a long-time competitive shooter, but he said people with guns at their hips in classrooms can be “distracting.”
“A student or a professor, with a firearm on their side in a classroom, it’s distracting,” said Ginn. “And I would not support someone carrying a firearm on their side in a classroom. By the same token, I understand that if you have a child that leaves and has to walk through the other side of Atlanta, how do I handle that? I thought the House this year came up with a great way to address that. And that was in the bill, they proposed where as long as no one knew you had a gun or firearm, you were within the bounds of the law. That did not make it into the law. So, therefore, there is still that prohibition of you carrying any firearm on university system property.”
While Ginn said no one other than law officers can legally carry a gun onto university property, he said gun owners can have weapons in their vehicles on that property — just as long as the gun never leaves their vehicle.
“In your vehicle on university property, it is permissible to have a firearm,” said Ginn. “But do not get out with it on campus. If they find out about it, you will be arrested, even with a valid permit. I am 100 percent positive you are legal in your vehicle on university property. You get out of that vehicle with that firearm, you are breaking the law.”
The sheriff said 27 states have a “reciprocity contract,” where they recognize each other’s carry permits. He noted that South Carolina does not recognize Georgia’s gun laws.
“If you’re pulled over in S.C. and they find a hand gun in your car, they will take it,” said Thomas. “You may or may not see that handgun again. So my suggestion, even if you’re a license holder, if you go through S.C., throw it in your boot until you get out of S.C. Don’t give them a reason to pull you over. They’re strict. I know a certain sheriff pulled over, had his weapon taken and mailed back to him the next week. They will not play.”
Thomas was asked Thursday how his department deals with armed citizens, such as when deputies pull motorists over on the road.
“That’s a good question,” said Thomas. “The way we react to something, especially dealing with weapons, is going to be totally different than how Atlanta or your metro areas are going to react. Most people out here, we know, are probably going to have some kind of gun, whether you see it or not. I would dare to say most people in this county own a firearm for hunting purposes or protection. We know that. People in urban areas, Atlanta, generally when they pull somebody over that has a firearm, it’s generally not for a good reason. We’re going to react different than what they are.”
Thomas suggested that if someone has their license or registration in the glovebox along with their firearm, then they should tell the deputy about the weapon before reaching for the glovebox. Ginn added that anyone pulled over is smart to keep their hands on their steering wheel to ease the tension level of any officer who has stopped them.
Thomas also noted Thursday that law officers don’t have the right to detain anyone carrying a gun simply to determine if they have a permit.
“If you’re walking down the road, you have a shotgun, you have an AR, you have a pistol on, that is not a reason for us to detain you to find out if you have a license,” said Thomas. “Because you can legally walk down the road, right?”
The sheriff also said the new Georgia law renders any local law regarding firearms “null and void.”
“Any law regulating firearms from a city or a county, goes null July 1,” said Thomas. “I don’t know of any in this county.”
He said those getting firearm license renewals at the county probate office will no longer have to be fingerprinted for each renewal after the first one. Likewise, the law prohibits the establishment of any database to keep up with Georgia’s gun permit holders.
“A person or entity shall not create or maintain a multi-jurisdictional database of persons issued weapons carry licenses,” said Thomas. “There is no database of that for the state of Georgia.”
Ginn said banning any database establishment was done to protect gun owners’ privacy rights.
“It was almost two years ago in New York,” said Ginn. “They (newspapers) published a Google map of every license carry holder in that state. And what we wanted to do was make sure that doesn’t happen in Georgia. So the only person that has a registration of all firearm owners is the probate court. And if law enforcement wants to call probate court and find out if you have a carry permit, then they can do that. But there’s no one in the probate court, no state agency, no media outlet, and no individual that can assimilate all over the state the 159 counties and their weapon carry permits. Because we don’t want your privacy violated.”
Madison County chief deputy Shawn Burns noted that the new Georgia law is bringing out some gun advocates who are interested in seeing how law enforcement will respond to weapons carried in public.
“There have been some open carry guys filming stuff walking around with AR and pistol and their encounters with law enforcement,” said Burns. “They want to see what law enforcement is going to do and how they’re going to react. We’ve never been able to stop someone based on the fact that they have a gun. That’s never been the only reason we can stop someone. Now, this made them feel all warm and fuzzy because they put it in writing.”
Burns said Madison County law officers have been discussing the new gun law.
“We’ve been telling our guys, this thing is coming y’all,” said Burns. “And I’m sure July 1, someone in front of Ingles is going to test us on it. And it’s going to be recorded. I want us to do the right thing. I don’t like talking to Fox 5 about stuff like that. I told our guys don’t pay attention to the gun. Don’t let that be your sole reason for talking to a guy. But you watch that gun. He’s going to ask, do you have a legal reason to detain me sir? And the deputy is going to say, no man, I don’t. But if he’s holding a rifle or a shotgun, as soon as he moves the wrong way and the barrel of that gun goes in the wrong direction, and it endangers somebody else, then we’ve got laws violated and he has to produce ID. It’s all in how you explain it.”
Ginn said he proposed a situation to a Colonel, asking how he will handle it.
“Say an individual wanted to go to convenience store and buy a bag of Cheetos,” he said. “They didn’t have it in their holster. They just had it in their hand, which, believe it or not, is legal to do. I asked the colonel, what happens if you pull up to a convenience store and a guy’s walking out of there with a brown paper sack and holding his firearm? And the colonel said, ‘He’s probably not going to get to enjoy his Cheetos.’ The extremist in any position always creates a little bit more problem than the realistic people. God gave us that thing in between our ears and I hope you will all use it.”