Gov. Kemp signs bill allowing concealed carry of handguns without a license

Gov. Brian Kemp signs a bill, which will allow permitless carry, at a gun store In Douglasville on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. SB 319 allows a “lawful weapons carrier” to carry a concealed handgun everywhere license holders currently are allowed. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

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Gov. Brian Kemp signs a bill, which will allow permitless carry, at a gun store In Douglasville on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. SB 319 allows a “lawful weapons carrier” to carry a concealed handgun everywhere license holders currently are allowed. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Standing outside Gable Sporting Goods in Douglasville, where Gov. Brian Kemp said he bought his daughter Lucy’s first handgun, the governor signed a bill that allows Georgians to carry concealed handguns without first getting a license from the state.

Making good on a 2018 campaign promise, Kemp signed Senate Bill 319, referred to by backers as “constitutional carry.”

SB 319 allows a “lawful weapons carrier” to carry a concealed handgun everywhere license holders currently are allowed — meaning guns would 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. The bill went into effect upon his signature.

Kemp said he was signing the bill because it was what was right for Georgians.

“There is no doubt that we are in challenging times,” Kemp said, citing increasing violent crime rates across the state.

Kemp said permit-less carry was another of several steps he’s taken to tamp down crime, citing legislation he’s pushed to increase penalties on people convicted of illegal street racing and human trafficking.

Law-abiding Georgians should not have to go through the process of getting a license to carry concealed handguns, Kemp said.

“People don’t have to carry if they don’t want to,” he told reporters. “But this is a constitutional authority that people have, and they certainly shouldn’t have a piece of paper from the government to be able to legally carry a weapon.”

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

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

Kemp endorsed a similar firearms measure during his 2018 campaign, which also featured the headline-grabbing TV ad that showed him pointing a shotgun toward a stammering actor playing as though he wanted to date Kemp’s daughter.

In the three years after his election, Kemp did little publicly to push permit-less carry at the Legislature, until former U.S. Sen. David Perdue declared he would challenge the governor for the state’s highest office. Perdue accused Kemp of being a “career politician who hasn’t delivered” for gun rights advocates or backed other cultural issues popular with the party’s conservative core.

“We fought to protect the constitutional rights of every person in this state and we won,” said state Sen. Jason Anavitarte, a Dallas Republican who sponsored SB 319.

While pursuing permit-less carry is considered a play for GOP voters, a poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this year found that about 70% of Georgia voters polled do not believe Georgians should be allowed to carry a concealed weapon without first obtaining a license. Of those, 54% of respondents who identified as Republican and 60% of those who said they were conservative opposed allowing handguns to be carried without a permit.

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Senator Donzella James speaks against the bill as Democrats held a press conference down the street from where Gov. Brian Kemp will sign a bill, allowing permit less carry, at a gun store In Douglasville on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Senator Donzella James speaks against the bill as Democrats held a press conference down the street from where Gov. Brian Kemp will sign a bill, allowing permit less carry, at a gun store In Douglasville on Tuesday, April 12, 2022.  (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Senator Donzella James speaks against the bill as Democrats held a press conference down the street from where Gov. Brian Kemp will sign a bill, allowing permit less carry, at a gun store In Douglasville on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Law enforcement officials are split on the idea and declined to take an official stance on the bill as it made its way through the Legislature.

Supporters of the measure say it removes an unnecessary barrier to their constitutional right to carry handguns.

Long guns can already be carried without a license. Georgia has not required training to get a license. There is no waiting period in Georgia when buying a gun. And those who don’t have a license must undergo a background check when purchasing guns from stores.

Georgians seeking to carry a concealed handgun have had to apply for a license with their local probate court or sheriff’s office (depending on the county), get fingerprinted, submit to a background check, and pay a fee up to $75. Now that Kemp has signed SB 319, that requirement goes away.

Background checks still would be necessary when purchasing a handgun from a store or a dealer.

The state permitting process would remain in place to allow Georgians to take advantage of gun carry “reciprocity” with other states, an agreement that allows gun owners to carry concealed handguns in states that offer the same permissions.

Opponents said Republicans are pushing legislation to remove the handgun licensing process to play to the GOP base. They said the permit process has screened out some who don’t have the legal right to carry a gun. Without it, there will be nothing to stop those people from carrying a gun and potentially committing violence.

At a press conference featuring some state Democratic lawmakers before the governor signed the bill, state Sen. Donzella James of College Park called Kemp’s support of the legislation a campaign tactic.

“Who is he serving with this bill?” James said. “Some say he’s serving himself by pandering to special interest groups and the far-right pro-Trump base.”

And some Democrats said removing the licensing requirement could work in their favor in November.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath told canvassers at a Gwinnett County park who were preparing to go door-to-door to promote her campaign that Republican-backed “permitless carry” legislation will help motivate more Democrats to vote. McBath, whose teenage son Jordan Davis was murdered in 2012 in an argument over loud music, added in an interview that Republicans are embracing the expansion at their own peril.

“Don’t be fooled into believing that the American public isn’t paying attention,” she said. “They see exactly what is happening. And they know who is in favor of protecting their families and their communities. And they know who isn’t. And they’re going to see the difference at the polls.”

Staff reporter Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.