Georgia panel approves bill aiming to make it legal to brandish a gun

A man purchases a gun at a store in Glendale California. AFP PHOTO/GABRIEL BOUYS
A man purchases a gun at a store in Glendale California. AFP PHOTO/GABRIEL BOUYS

A Georgia Senate panel approved legislation late Monday that would make it legal for a gun owner to pull or show their firearm during a dispute as long as he or she doesn’t “aim it offensively” at someone.

State Sen. Tyler Harper, an Ocilla Republican, said the legislation addresses a variety of issues gun rights advocates have with the state's carry laws. The bill, which was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 5-3 party-line vote, also would allow licensed gun owners to carry their weapons in churches and in courts when there are no judicial proceedings.

Under current law, a person who pulls a gun on someone faces a felony aggravated assault charge, which carries up to 20 years in prison.

“My argument is: just because I have a weapon on my person and I show that weapon, I should not be charged with a felony — a 20-year felony — for simply brandishing my firearm in my attempt to de-escalate what I consider a situation where I felt threatened,” Harper said.

Senate Bill 224 would require someone who displays or pulls a gun to aim that weapon at the person — or otherwise use it "in a threatening manner" — before he or she could be charged with felony aggravated assault.

State Sen. Harold Jones, an Augusta Democrat and a lawyer, said under current law prosecutors must prove murder is the intent of someone showing or pulling a gun before he or she can be found guilty of aggravated assault.

“A person who pulls their gun out and has it at their side — at their side — would not fit this new definition of aggravated assault,” Jones said. “I just don’t think we need to be doing that.”

Thomas Weaver, a gun rights activist and Cherokee County resident, said current law carries a lower penalty for a gun owner who shoots someone in self defense than someone who pulls out a firearm.

“If you shoot someone dead and legally claim self defense and you prevail in that, you’re off scot-free,” Weaver told lawmakers. “But if you show someone that you’re armed and you don’t shoot them dead, it’s aggravated assault and a 20-year felony.”

SB 244 also aims to allow all licensed gun owners to carry their weapons into places of worship — unless the church adopts a policy forbidding them. Current state law allows parishioners to carry weapons only if the place of worship’s governing body lets them. Few have decided to “opt in,” gun rights advocates said.

Gun owners also would be allowed to bring their weapons into court buildings when there are no judicial proceedings and officers of the court are not conducting official business. Guns still would not be allowed in court buildings that require visitors to go through security, Harper said. Current law bans guns from courthouses at all times.

SB 224 also aims to make it so people convicted of misdemeanor drug possession would no longer face a five-year suspension of their weapons permit, which is the current law.

“With possession of marijuana charges — that doesn’t disqualify a person from becoming a police officer, becoming the clerk of the court, becoming a sheriff’s deputy, a district attorney or a member of the armed services,” Harper said. “So why should we prohibit those individuals from being able to garner a weapons carry permit?”

If SB 224 is approved, antique guns would no longer be classified as weapons and law enforcement authorities would be required to sell firearms when they are confiscated.

After the hearing, state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, turned to Twitter to call the legislation "horrific."

“My colleagues refuse to acknowledge the danger and violence posed by guns and by the proliferation of guns,” Parent said on Twitter. “Instead they want to treat all guns as though they are sacred objects that are to be worshiped.”