Georgia Democrats urge Kemp to call special session to address gun violence

Georgia House Democratic Leader James Beverly of Macon speaks at a press conference called by Democratic lawmakers Wednesday at the Capitol in Atlanta. The lawmakers are urging Gov. Brian Kemp to call a special legislative session to address gun violence. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Georgia House Democratic Leader James Beverly of Macon speaks at a press conference called by Democratic lawmakers Wednesday at the Capitol in Atlanta. The lawmakers are urging Gov. Brian Kemp to call a special legislative session to address gun violence. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

A week after law enforcement officers in Atlanta and Cobb County spent eight hours searching for the man they say opened fire in a Midtown doctor’s office, killing one woman and injuring four others, Georgia Democrats called on Gov. Brian Kemp to convene a special session to address gun violence.

Democratic lawmakers introduced more than a dozen bills during this year’s legislative session addressing access to firearms, but none gained any traction. It’s unclear whether any of the bills would have prevented last week’s shooting.

“Democrats have been leading on gun safety legislation for years. Republicans continue to hide behind excuses,” House Democratic Leader James Beverly of Macon said at a press conference at the Capitol. “It’s time for us to put politics aside and lead to protect the lives of all Georgians. I say to the Republican leadership, who currently control the state House, the state Senate and the Governor’s Mansion: lead, don’t hide.”

In an interview with Channel 2 Action News on Wednesday, Kemp ruled out a special session focused on firearms.

”I think there’s a lot of politicians posturing right now which is unfortunate,” he said. “What I’m doing is I’m continuing to gather the facts on this individual, and what are the circumstances as to why this happened.”

Kemp ran for governor in 2018 on a platform of expanding access to firearms, helped by a wave of attention surrounding his provocative pro-gun TV ads.

Kemp made good on that campaign promise last year when he signed a law that allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons without first getting a license. That law also allows people who have licenses to carry guns in other states to carry them legally in Georgia. The legislation was a priority for Kemp, who at the time was facing a Republican primary challenger for his reelection bid.

Democrats said while several gun control measures — such as requiring background checks on all gun purchases and “red flag” laws that temporarily take firearms away from gun owners who have been identified as a danger to themselves or others — poll well across party lines, Republicans have been resistant to push any limitations.

Gun violence survivor Janet Paulsen of Acworth said at a press conference Democrats held Wednesday at the Georgia Capitol that she would still be able to walk if Georgia had a "red flag" law in 2015, the year her husband shot her six times in her driveway, paralyzing her from the waist down. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

The last bill that received enough Republican support to nearly make it across the finish line was in the aftermath of the 2018 shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school.

That bill, sponsored by a Republican state representative, was fast-tracked after the February 2018 shooting and won approval by the full House and a Senate panel before being tabled on the last day of the legislative session. That was the year before Kemp became governor, and Republican efforts to pass the measure never returned.

Janet Paulsen, an Acworth resident and gun control advocate, said that if a red flag law had been in place in 2015, she may still have her ability to walk. A judge granted Paulsen a temporary protective order five days before her husband shot her six times in her driveway, paralyzing her from the waist down. He then shot himself, taking his life.

Paulsen said she spent five years working to stand again, and, after pulling herself up from her wheelchair, urged Republican lawmakers to pass legislation that would limit access to guns.

“Bullets don’t care what side of the aisle you sit on,” Paulsen said.

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