Attorney General Carr questions Savannah’s ‘lock up your gun’ law

Letter says first-in-the-state ordinance passed in April is ‘void’ under conflicting Georgia statute
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr sent a letter to Savannah's city attorney addressing recently passed changes to local gun laws. (Natrice Miller/

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr sent a letter to Savannah's city attorney addressing recently passed changes to local gun laws. (Natrice Miller/

SAVANNAH ― The fight over whether city councils and other local governmental bodies in Georgia can outlaw the leaving of guns in unlocked cars has been joined.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr issued a letter Friday to a Savannah city official informing him a first-of-its-kind law championed by Mayor Van Johnson goes against state statute and is thereby void. The Savannah City Council unanimously passed the revisions to local gun laws last month, requiring the reporting of firearms thefts and imposing penalties on those who leave unsecured weapons in their vehicles.

Carr’s letter states that Savannah’s gun storage ordinances “directly conflict, and are preempted by, state law,” citing a statute that prohibits local governments from regulating possession, ownership or transfer of firearms or other weapons.

Johnson responded to Carr’s correspondence Saturday, classifying it as a legal opinion and asserting that the courts, not the Georgia attorney general, constitutes constitutionality.

“His opinion is, respectfully, his opinion,” Johnson said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Johnson gave further pushback, challenging the second-term attorney general to sue the city over the law revisions and insisting he’d fight any rulings invalidating the ordinances “all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Carr’s office has not yet responded to an inquiry into whether the state intends to file a suit over the Savannah laws or if the letter was meant to indicate the state’s position should a violator of the ordinance take legal action against the city. Savannah has yet to charge anyone using the law.

Johnson drew comparisons between the Savannah ordinances to state laws barring handheld cellphone usage while driving as well as those requiring the wearing of seatbelts.

“The state mandates things quite wisely in those instances, and this is the same thing,” he said. “It’s about the responsibility we have to protect our city’s citizens.”

The gun storage laws are the second Savannah ordinances to draw state ire in recent years. Gov. Brian Kemp pushed back against a face mask mandate initiated by Johnson and the city’s council during the COVID-19 pandemic, a move quickly mimicked in Atlanta and other Georgia cities.

Kemp declined to sue Savannah over the face mask law, challenging Atlanta instead. The governor later dropped the suit and pushed for state laws barring mask mandates in certain circumstances, such as the 2022 measure that allows parents to exclude their children from face covering requirements in public schools.

The tiff over the gun storage laws between Carr and Johnson comes with a political element. Both elected officials have aspirations for higher office: Carr, a Republican, is positioning himself for a governor’s run in 2026 while Johnson, a 55-year-old Democrat who is term-limited as mayor, is weighing his next political career moves, say several of his confidants.