We don’t have to duck and cover. Our children don’t have to participate in lockdown drills.
We don’t have to sit and watch our streets turn into a combat zone on live television.
We don’t have to mourn a 38-year-old mother who devoted her career to public health.
We don’t have to pray all night that four other women fighting for their lives will survive.
We don’t have to debate whether guns kill people or people kill people. (They both do.)
We don’t have to argue about whether mental health is a crisis in this country.
But we do live this way.
We live with the terrifying reality that no place in our city is safe from the threat of gun violence.
Except one place: Georgia’s State Capitol building.
Under the Gold Dome, you are not permitted to carry firearms. There are metal detectors at the few entrances where citizens can access the building. You walk through them only after you clear the 8-foot-high steel fence that rings the Capitol.
So, while you can walk into a medical office or a market or a gas station with a gun, you can’t carry a firearm under the Gold Dome.
Every time we watch a gut-wrenching mass shooting unfold, we ask, “What can we do to ensure no city ever again endures the pain Atlanta suffered on Wednesday?”
There is a simple answer: We can change the laws.
But the people responsible for changing the laws in Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp and the state legislature, aren’t concerned for their own safety when they leave for work in the morning the way the rest of us are.
If they were, they would change the laws.
While we don’t know how the accused Midtown shooter came to possess the handgun, Wednesday’s shooting was another grim reminder that the laws currently in place failed us – again.
This year, in the Georgia General Assembly, proposals to require background checks and a three-day waiting period to purchase a firearm were, in effect, ignored. So, too, were bills that would have tightened guidelines around how guns can be stored.
The Legislature even failed to vote on a measure that would have instituted stricter punishments for negligent gun owners whose weapons fall into the hands of unsupervised children.
What have we gotten instead?
Last year, Gov. Kemp signed a bill that allows people to carry concealed guns without a permit. And in recent years, our lawmakers in Georgia have allowed people to carry guns on college campuses, public parks, bars and churches.
All of this has happened as the country grappled with a surge in gun violence, as more and more people coped with issues with their mental health, and as mass shootings occurred with alarming frequency.
What’s happened in our legislature is at odds with the commonsense views of Georgians polled by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution just last year. Our poll found that 61% of Georgia voters said they were either strongly opposed or somewhat opposed so-called “permitless carry” of guns. Previous polls showed strong support for carrying guns, but equally strong support for expanding background checks for gun purchases.
Gov. Kemp has the opportunity to lead here in ways that can both make the public safer and align with the will of the silent majority of Georgians. He must do so. Kemp could make clear to his supporters that nobody is trying to take their guns away, but rather that it is critical to be sure people use them safely. We would support him in those efforts.
And he can do that without treading on the cherished constitutional right to own and carry guns.
We agree with Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, who said, “While we respect the rights conveyed by the Second Amendment, we also need more actions to protect the rights of our citizens to go about their lives.”
And with State Sen. Josh McLaurin, a Democrat from Atlanta, who was meeting a friend for lunch next door to the building where the shootings happened. He remained there with 20 to 30 other customers and employees under lockdown until late afternoon.
“We don’t have to live like this,” he wrote in a tweet.
And yet, we do, even though common-sense measures would save lives, ensuring that guns only be used safely and responsibly — and by responsible people.
Dickens and many others have called for federal action to address the dual scourges of gun violence and mental health.
But let’s not wait for Washington. Let’s start here, at home.
The mayor and the governor have common ground when it comes to public safety, which makes sense, as this should not be a partisan issue.
It is a top priority for both of them, and each was effusive in their praise of the law enforcement officers who protected our city and apprehended the suspected shooter. Kemp rightly called them heroes.
Make no mistake, the governor is perhaps better positioned than anyone in the nation to make America’s streets safer. The governor’s pro-gun bonafides are rock solid. After all, during the 2018 campaign, Kemp appeared in a television ad, in which he sardonically pointed a shotgun at a young man who was looking to date his daughter. Kemp dismissed the public outcry from Democratic critics, tweeting, “I’m Conservative folks. Get over it.”
That response misses the point.
This isn’t a conservative or a liberal issue. This is an American issue. It is a human issue.
Kemp’s Republican supporters argued the ad was clever and all in good fun. His Democratic critics responded that it was intimidating and emblematic of an out-of-control gun culture.
None of that matters.
What does matter is that Kemp, as a Second-Amendment supporter, has the ability to change our state’s position on guns. Kemp has demonstrated before that he is willing to put the good of the people, the state, and the nation ahead of powerful forces in his party.
If he does that now and urges Georgia’s Republican lawmakers to support sensible legislation concerning background checks, waiting periods, gun storage safety and proof of mental competence, he can make our streets safer again and drive change nationally, potentially saving thousands of lives.
Our conservative northern neighbor, Tennessee, has shown signs of progress recently when its Republican governor, Bill Lee, signed an executive order last month intended to keep guns away from the mentally ill, such as the suspected shooter at a Nashville school.
Georgia can lead the way, too.
All eyes are on us now. They seem to be on us all the time. And our governor has a chance to further cement a legacy of doing the right thing when it counts the most.
If he does, maybe, just maybe, there is a chance that we will no longer have to live this way.
Andrew Morse, president and publisher, for the Editorial Board. Email: Andrew.Morse@ajc.com