Bill ridding Georgia of gun requirement clears Senate committee

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/AJC

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/AJC

After a little more than an hour of debate, a Georgia Senate panel voted along party lines to approve legislation that would allow Georgians to carry a concealed handgun without first getting a license from the state.

The measure passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 6-3, with Republicans voting in favor of the bill.

Senate Bill 319 would allow a “lawful weapons carrier” to carry a concealed handgun everywhere license holders currently are allowed — meaning guns will still be prohibited in places such as the secured areas of airports or government buildings that have security at the entrance, including the state Capitol. A lawful weapons carrier is defined as anyone who is now lawfully allowed to have a gun.

Those who have prior drug convictions, have been convicted of a felony or facing felony charges, have been treated for mental health issues or substance abuse issues within the past five years, or have been involuntarily committed to a mental health hospital will still be prohibited from purchasing and possessing handguns.

The bill’s sponsor, Dallas Republican state Sen. Jason Anavitarte, said he filed the bill to grant Georgians greater access to their legal right to own and carry guns.

“Permit-less carry simply allows a person who’s otherwise legally able to possess and carry a firearm to do so,” Anavitarte said. “The requirement to have a permit does not deter or (disincentivize) a criminal from carrying a firearm concealed. They will do it regardless. Permit-less carry gives criminals reason to fear that a potential victim could be armed, and thus (disincentivizes) criminal conduct.”

For years, gun rights advocates have pushed to rid the state of its gun licensing process, but the proposal picked up steam this year when Gov. Brian Kemp — who faces a stiff GOP primary fight for reelection — said he supported passing permit-less carry legislation this year.

State Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat, said a report from the state’s probate courts — which issues concealed carry licenses in many counties — found that nearly 5,300 people were denied permits in 2020, with many of those having criminal backgrounds. Parent said data on carry licenses was shared voluntarily and not all counties participated. In some counties, the sheriff’s department issues concealed carry licenses.

Parent called the licensing process one of few “checks and balances” to make sure that only people who should be allowed to carry concealed handguns were granted a permit.

“So you’re saying that for the 5,000 people — which is a low number — that are criminals that were not given a weapons carry license, that doesn’t concern you at all, that that check will just disappear?” Parent asked.

Background checks still will be required when purchasing a handgun from a store or a dealer under SB 319. Anavitarte said that having a licensing process puts a barrier between law-abiding citizens and their Second Amendment rights, while criminals are going to get access to guns illegally regardless of the permitting process.

“At the end of the day, if we want to stop that, If we want to stop the bad guys from getting guns, we need to make investments in cracking down on criminals,” he said.

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