Georgia Democrats propose range of gun bills that will likely hit wall

Georgia’s Democratic lawmakers have filed a flurry of bills this session that take nearly every possible approach to enacting more gun control in the state.

The proposals include efforts to require those who apply for gun licenses to get hands-on training before they carry concealed weapons, repeal the campus gun bill that was approved in 2017, and rid the state of a law that requires records be purged after five years for those who were involuntarily hospitalized for mental health treatment.

The proposals flowing into the legislative hoppers are likely futile.

Each legislative session lawmakers introduce similar legislation that would promote what they call “safe gun ownership.” And each year, none see the light of day.

Still, Democrats aren't giving up, state Sen. Emanuel Jones said.

“We’re going to keep talking about it, and eventually someone will realize the value of these proposals,” the Ellenwood Democrat said.

Democrats are also revved up after the election of political newcomer Lucy McBath, a national spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety who lost her son to gun violence. She ousted Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in the 6th Congressional District last year.

State Democrats benefited from the surge of out-of-state campaign donations from gun control groups, which pumped $4 million into McBath's race. Everytown donated about $505,000 to the state Democratic Party and a handful of candidates.

By contrast, the National Rifle Association's Political Victory Fund contributed about $14,000 to Georgia candidates running for state seats. The slowdown in NRA contributions could be a sign the group's monopoly on gun issues is weakening.

Still, gun rights supporters have filed a few bills of their own this year.

Legislation to let anyone who is legally allowed to own a gun carry it without paying for a state-issued license was filed before the session began. Another proposal would let drivers of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft carry handguns in their cars, subverting the companies' policies.

But, largely, gun rights supporters are playing defense, fighting off attempts by those they see as seeking to “infringe” on their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Jerry Henry, the executive director of Georgia Carry, one of the state’s most politically active organizations of gun supporters, said a major focus this session was pushing for minor tweaks to legislation that’s been passed in recent years. Sometimes legislation is rushed through at the very end of a session, he said, leaving room for errors in the language.

“Most of the heavy lifting on gun rights has been done already,” Henry said.

That’s why Democrats say they are methodically filing bills in an attempt to chip away at the gains made by gun rights supporters in recent years.

“It is part of our strategy to retake Georgia,” Jones said. Republicans have controlled the Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion since 2005. “It lets our constituency know what side we’re on,” he said.

Freshman state Sen. Sally Harrell, an Atlanta Democrat, said it was important that the first bill she filed was to reverse a 2017 law that allows people with state licenses to carry firearms on many parts of public college campuses.

"This law is wildly unpopular," she said. "During my campaign, parents, students, and professors told me they feel less safe knowing kids can have guns in schools."

Gun rights supporters said they don’t see any proposal that would limit access to guns gaining traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature. And even if it did, it would be unlikely to get a signature from Gov. Brian Kemp, who campaigned as an avid supporter of gun rights and was endorsed by the NRA and Georgia Carry.

A bill that could see some action is the one that would get rid of the fee Georgia gun owners pay when they renew their license to carry handguns.

After paying an initial fee of about $75, license holders currently must pay about $30 to apply for a renewal and undergo an additional background check every five years. Exact fees are set at the county level.

State Sen. Greg Kirk, an Americus Republican who proposed Senate Bill 84, said if passed, the state would lose about $6 million each year in license fees.

But Kirk compared it to a state program that allows poor voters to comply with the state’s voter ID law by applying through a nonprofit to pay $5 for the identification instead of the full $32 fee.

“It recognizes the constitutional right to vote by assisting with an almost free ID,” Kirk said.

Meanwhile, the gun control group Moms Demand Action will hold a lobbying day Wednesday at the Capitol.

Shannon Lawhon, the group’s leader, said she’s hopeful that this will be the year gun control measures make it through the General Assembly.

“This year feels different,” the Athens resident said. “I’ve seen people from both sides of the aisle willing to have conversations with us. That hasn’t always happened in the past.”


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