Law enforcement split on practicality of ‘permit-less’ carrying of handguns in Ga.

Salesman Hugh Jeffries hands a Taurus handgun to a customer at Adventure Outdoors in Smyrna, Monday, December 13, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

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Salesman Hugh Jeffries hands a Taurus handgun to a customer at Adventure Outdoors in Smyrna, Monday, December 13, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Georgians seeking to carry a handgun have to apply for a license with their local probate court, get fingerprinted, submit to a background check and pay a fee up to $75.

Legislation scheduled to be heard in a Senate committee on Tuesday would get rid of that process, and current and former law enforcement officials are split over whether the state should move toward allowing Georgians to carry handguns without a permit.

Danny Agan, who retired from the Atlanta Police Department after 29 years, said it’s “not such a bad idea” to have a licensing process in place.

“It likely removes those who are less focused and serious about gun safety and the responsibility that goes with gun ownership from just being able to strap a gun on and walk out the door,” said Agan, who served as the homicide commander when he retired. “The permit maybe makes a person give deeper thought to what they are doing when carrying a gun, since they went through the process.”

Senate Bill 319 would allow a “lawful weapons carrier” to carry a handgun without first obtaining a license from the state. The bill’s sponsor, Dallas Republican state Sen. Jason Anavitarte, said he filed the bill to grant Georgians greater access to their constitutional rights.

“‘Constitutional Carry’ provides a safe and legal option for law abiding gun owners in our state to exercise their Second Amendment Rights, and I look forward to discussing the facts — not partisan narrative — about SB 319 in the coming weeks,” Anavitarte said in a statement.

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 are prohibited from possessing handguns.

The bill also doesn’t change where guns are allowed, meaning handguns 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.

Gov. Brian Kemp — who faces a stiff GOP primary fight for reelection — said he supports passing legislation this year to allow the carrying of handguns without a permit.

Retired Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison said he doesn’t think the legislation will change much.

Long guns can already be carried without a license. Georgia does not require 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.

“I see no need in punishing law-abiding citizens executing their constitutional rights, primarily in today’s environment,” he said of the uptick in crime across the state.

Terry Norris, a lobbyist for the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, said the sheriffs in his organization are split on the issue and have not taken a position on the bill.

A recent poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 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 identify as Republican and 60% of those who identify as conservative oppose allowing handguns to be carried without a permit.

Courtney Spriggs, the Georgia chapter leader of the gun control group Moms Demand Action, said doing away with the license requirement removes a safeguard from what she said are the state’s already minimal restrictions on carrying and purchasing guns.

“I think most concerning is without background checks on every gun sale, which Georgia doesn’t have, this takes away one more chance for a background check on people who are carrying weapons,” Spriggs said. “Without this check and balance, there is no guarantee that anyone has had any sort of background check when carrying a concealed weapon. We just have to live our lives wondering if the person who has a gun is a responsible gun owner.”

Background checks are not required for the private sale of guns. Federally licensed dealers are required to run background checks at gun shows. Georgia law does not allow law enforcement officers to ask someone carrying a gun whether he or she has a license to carry it.

While SB 319 would get rid of the requirement to obtain a license before someone can carry a handgun, the process will remain in place to allow those who want a license to get one. And having a license has its benefits, said state Rep. Alan Powell, a Hartwell Republican and gun rights advocate.

People can show their valid license and not have to undergo a background check each time they purchase a gun, he said. They also need a license if they want 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.

“If and when the state goes to permit-less carry, I’m still telling people that it is highly recommended that they keep their concealed weapons permit,” Powell said.