Tammy Jensen with Stunning Ladies helps Carl Bennett of Marietta with gun accessories during Georgia Carry’s convention Saturday at the Atlanta Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort in Stone Mountain. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Gun rights activists cautiously optimistic going into Georgia election

As Georgia gun rights activists prepare for the state’s next legislative session, they’re confident but not complacent heading into the November elections.

Georgia Carry, one of the state’s most active organizations of gun supporters, saw its preferred candidate for governor win the Republican primary, as did many of the other candidates that it backed up and down the ballot.

“If Brian Kemp wins governor and Geoff Duncan wins lieutenant governor, I don’t see us needing to play defense next year,” said Jerry Henry, Georgia Carry’s executive director. “If those people get elected, why would we have to fight (gun control legislation)?”

Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, is facing former state House Democratic leader Stacey Abrams in the race for governor. Duncan, a former member of the state House, faces Democratic businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico in the November vote.

Lifetime Georgia Carry member John Pander said it will be important for people who support gun rights to head to the polls in November and vote for Kemp, who was set to speak to the group Saturday night.

“It’s important to make sure that they do what they say they are going to do,” he said.

Gun control groups also plan to be active going into the fall campaign.

The group Moms Demand Action held its national convention in Atlanta earlier this month, drawing more than 1,000 attendees. The convention focused on urging volunteers to get involved in politics, whether that meant running for office themselves or supporting candidates who want to stiffen gun laws.

Georgia Carry members said they’re not worried about the Moms group’s efforts.

“Our focus isn’t going to change,” Henry said. “We’re going to continue to tackle what we’ve been tackling.”

During the group’s 10th annual convention in Stone Mountain this weekend, Henry touted Georgia Carry’s accomplishments.

In 2010, the group successfully lobbied lawmakers to repeal the “public gathering” law — which opened up several public spaces where weapons could be carried — and in 2017, members pushed for the passage of legislation that allows those with weapons permits to carry guns on college campuses.

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

Still, many of the group’s members say it’s important to keep lawmakers who are strong supporters of gun rights in public office.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, but we need to stay on top of things so that our rights aren’t chipped away,” Duluth resident Rhonda West said. “We have the right to defend ourselves and to carry (guns) lawfully.”

Henry said the group plans to focus on minor tweaks to “clean up” some of the state’s gun laws.

“Some of the things are not as clear when it passes as when we introduced it,” he said. “We need to clean up things to get what we thought we were getting to begin with.”

For example, in passing campus gun legislation, lawmakers had to remove certain areas, such as professors’ offices, from the places where firearms are allowed.

Eventually, Henry said, they’ll push for permit-less carry — allowing for concealed or open carry of weapons without having to get a gun license.

“That’s not something we’re going to push until the time is right,” he said.

About 160 gun enthusiasts gathered at Georgia Carry’s convention to learn about topics including how to stay safe in an active shooter situation and what legal resources are available for someone who is arrested for shooting someone in self-defense.

West said she was interested in the ladies holster fashion show sponsored by the gun rights group The Well Armed Woman.

“I like that they’re making it more accessible for ladies to carry,” she said. “You can be feminine and you’re still entitled to defend yourself.”

Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/politics.

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