Two weeks after shooting spree, Georgia Senate backs bill to loosen gun restrictions

210329-Atlanta-Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia) speaks in favor of HB218 on Monday, March 29, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
210329-Atlanta-Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia) speaks in favor of HB218 on Monday, March 29, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: BEN@BENGRAY.COM

Credit: BEN@BENGRAY.COM

Two weeks after eight people where gunned down in three Atlanta-area spas, the Georgia Senate on Monday approved legislation to loosen the state’s gun laws.

“This is a Second Amendment protection bill that further recognizes Georgia’s commitment to protect its citizens and their Second Amendment rights,” said state Sen. Bo Hatchett, a Cornelia Republican.

House Bill 218 passed 34-18 on a party-line vote, with Republicans in support of the measure.

The fact that the vote came shortly after the spa shootings was something Democrats highlighted in opposing the bill.

“We don’t have to live like this,” said Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat. “We don’t have to see three establishments shot up and eight people dead in our state. We don’t have to live in fear of the next mass shooting.”

ExploreAJC Bill Tracker: Live updating bills to watch in the Georgia Legislature

Canton Republican Rep. Mandi Ballinger initially proposed HB 218 to make it legally easier for travelers to bring their guns into the state.

Senators amended the legislation during the committee process to allow probate judges to process gun carry licenses and license renewals online. Currently, applicants must go to the court in person. The legislation also prohibits the governor from closing weapons manufacturers or shooting ranges during a public emergency.

The Senate also voted 34-18 to amend HB 218 to include a proposal from state Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, to bar the governor from enacting any guidelines that “specifically limit the practice of any religion” during a declared state of emergency. Businesses and nonprofits also would be able to operate as long as they meet safety protocols as established by the governor.

The measure now heads back to the House for its consideration.

In Other News