House approves bill eliminating need for Georgians to get gun carry license

The Georgia House approved a bill that would let Georgians carry a concealed handgun without first getting a license from the state. Background checks, however, would still be required when purchasing a handgun from a store or a dealer. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

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The Georgia House approved a bill that would let Georgians carry a concealed handgun without first getting a license from the state. Background checks, however, would still be required when purchasing a handgun from a store or a dealer. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

The Georgia House approved a bill that would let Georgians carry a concealed handgun without first getting a license from the state.

Senate Bill 319 passed 100-67 on Wednesday, with the Republican majority supporting it and Democrats opposing it. The bill is similar to a House measure lawmakers passed earlier in March.

Presenting the bill, Rep. Mandi Ballinger said there was no need to rehash the debate from a few weeks ago.

“(This bill) just removes the fee that citizens in this state have to pay to be able to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” the Canton Republican said.

SB 319 would allow 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.

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Those who have prior drug convictions, have been convicted of a felony or are 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 would still be prohibited from purchasing and possessing handguns.

Supporters of the measure said it would remove an unnecessary barrier to their constitutional right to carry handguns.

Opponents said Republicans are pushing legislation to remove the handgun licensing process to play to the GOP base. But doing that, they said, would also make it easier for those who don’t have a legal right to possess and carry handguns to do so — leading to an increase in gun violence.

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.

Currently, Georgians seeking to carry a concealed handgun have 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. Background checks still would be required when purchasing a handgun from a store or a dealer.

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.

State Rep. Shea Roberts, an Atlanta Democrat, said, as a mother, she couldn’t support the bill.

“With rights come responsibility,” Roberts said. “Responsibility means doing everything we can to make sure people who carry guns — especially in public places around our families — go through the process to carry a permit.”

State Rep. Bonnie Rich, a Suwanee Republican, said it is because she is a mother that she supported the bill. She told a story of a man who was in prison for child molestation who had been harassing her and mailing things to her and her two children, 4 and 6, at their home.

“I had never, at that time, held a gun in my hands or shot one, but I can tell you right now that I was prepared to shoot that man,” she said. “The problem is, I couldn’t get my carry permit before he got out of prison. So I stayed home with my children because I was terrified to go out by myself without my equalizer.”

The measure was amended in the House, so it now goes back to the Senate for its consideration.