Georgians have long loved their guns. Not so much the state’s new “guns everywhere” law.
Voters disapprove of lawmakers’ expansion this year of where permitted gun owners may carry their weapons, despite being more likely to believe gun ownership generally helps protect people from becoming victims of a crime, according to a new statewide poll conducted for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The poll, conducted by Abt SRBI of New York, is the first time Georgians have weighed in on the expansion since the state Legislature overwhelmingly passed gun legislation in March and Gov. Nathan Deal signed it into law in April. The results come only weeks ahead of the May 20 primary election and affirm an AJC poll in January that showed voters strongly opposing what was then one of lawmakers’ signature proposals.
Among respondents in the new poll, 59 percent give House Bill 60 a thumbs down. Half the naysayers own guns themselves or live with someone who does, such as native Georgian Lynda Greaves, 66, of Pike County.
“People in today’s society aren’t good controlling themselves,” said Greaves, who is trained to use the .357 Magnum kept locked in a safe in the bedroom she shares with her husband. The gun, she said, is for self-protection. But the grandmother, a self-identified independent who leans Democratic, sighed when asked why permitted gun owners shouldn’t be allowed to carry firearms into bars, government buildings and, for the first time, churches — all places on the expanded list allowed by HB 60, which goes into effect July 1.
Schoolteachers and administrators could also be allowed to carry a weapon if allowed by local school boards and trained.
“We get angry too quickly. We don’t know how to resolve our conflicts well,” Greaves said. “I just don’t feel they have the background or training or emotional capacity to use their gun correctly.”
Georgia is already considered among the nation’s most friendly states for gun owners, which last saw a gun law expansion in 2010. While the new law still won’t allow guns on the state’s college campuses, many of the few remaining prohibitions on where state-licensed gun owners can carry their weapons will fall.
Not everyone has a problem with that.
“I’m of the opinion people who are going to misuse guns aren’t going to follow gun laws anyway,” said Jerod Panian, 39. The Sugar Hill resident, who considers himself somewhat conservative and leans Republican, has a permit to carry a gun. He sees no problem with the legislation. “I’m not for the Wild West or anything, but it evens the playing field.”
That is not an uncommon sentiment among the legislation’s supporters. Guns have long had a role in the keep and care of Georgians, said Jerry Henry, the executive director of Georgia Carry, whose more than 7,300 members have lobbied heavily on behalf of HB 60 and legislation like it for several years.
“We’ve had to defend ourselves from things, and we’ve also had to feed our families,” Henry said. “It’s kind of second nature.”
Politically speaking, the legislation won some Democratic support, most notably from state Sen. Jason Carter, D-Atlanta. Carter this year is running as his party’s challenger to unseat Deal, assuming the governor’s likely win in the May 20 primary. Deal just received an “A” grade from the National Rifle Association.
“We’re talking about a region with a culture of hunting and that has been historically a much more rural part of the country,” said Charles Bullock, a longtime political science professor at the University of Georgia. “What this points out is while there’s less variation within the tent of the national Democratic Party, there are still some Democrats in the South … if they try to toe the same line, they’d have no prospect of getting elected.”
Still, it is unclear how Georgia voters will translate their dislike of the new law to the ballot box this year. Despite disapproval of the legislation, 57 percent of Georgia voters said they believe owning a gun helps protect people. Thirty-five percent said gun ownership puts people’s safety at risk.
A majority of conservatives, at 54 percent, approve of it. Independent and liberal voters, at 59 percent and 80 percent, respectively, are more likely to be dissatisfied with the expansion. Statewide, however, the legislation found favor only in North Georgia. Elsewhere, including in metro Atlanta, southwest and southeast Georgia, a majority of Georgians said they did not like it.
More women than men also opposed the expansion. Chattooga County resident Yvonne Wigley, 73, is among 66 percent of women in the poll who thought the expansion is a bad idea. “If anybody that’s sane thinks they need a gun, I think they should have one,” said Wigley, a self-identified independent who leans Republican. “But I don’t think they should be able to take it just anywhere they please.”
State House Public Safety and Homeland Security Chairman Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, one of HB 60’s chief sponsors, isn’t so sure, however, that people understand the legislation.
“Quite frankly, I think the bigger problem is this whole bill has been misconstrued and misrepresented by the ‘anti’s’ and the media as a whole,” said Powell, who considers much of the legislation to be an administrative cleanup of loopholes or question marks in current law.
But that’s not how 73-year-old Smyrna resident Sarah Stanley sees it: “We’ve become a state of gun-toting people,” she said.
The AJC poll surveyed 1,012 adults statewide between May 5 and May 8. The margin of error for each response is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
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