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Constitutional carry bill sees new life in Georgia Statehouse
concealed weapon license
Hall County Probate Court's Weda Vandiver operates the court's fingerprint system that scans and stores fingerprints for applicants for a concealed weapon license. - photo by By Scott Rogers

A bill in the Georgia General Assembly would eliminate the need to get a firearms carry license, moving the state toward what is known as “constitutional carry” under the Second Amendment.

Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, introduced his original constitutional carry bill, House Bill 2, before last year’s session but said he believes the legislature and Gov. Brian Kemp will move it forward in this year’s session. 

“Hopefully, this bill will have teeth in it that we pass, not just a bill we call constitutional carry,” Dunahoo said.

The bill states that “evil resides in the heart of the individual, not in material objects” and that “the civil government should not ban or restrict their possession or use.”

The bill defines “lawful weapons carrier” as anyone not prohibited by law from owning a weapon or long gun as well as people licensed in other states.

“If you’re a law-abiding citizen, (that) means you’re the good guy and you want to have that opportunity by our Constitution to carry,” Dunahoo said.

There are still restrictions for lawful weapons carriers entering government buildings where there is screening by security personnel and “at least one member of such security personnel is certified as a peace officer,” according to the bill. However, a person who immediately leaves the building after being told about “his or her failure to clear security due to the carrying of a weapon” will not violate the law, according to the bill.

There are also some restrictions for school zones and places of worship among others, according to the bill. 

The Democratic Party of Georgia described the renewed push for constitutional carry as a campaign ploy by Gov. Brian Kemp.

“It’s despicable that Brian Kemp is willing to endanger Georgians’ lives for the sake of his re-election campaign,” the Democratic Party said in a statement. “Kemp’s reckless proposal to make our state less safe is nothing more than a desperate ploy to appeal to the GOP’s increasingly far-right base – and we know David Perdue would sell Georgians out to the gun lobby just the same. As Brian Kemp and David Perdue remain locked in a race to the bottom and Georgia Republicans hijack the upcoming legislative session for political theater, Democrats remain focused on protecting Georgians’ lives and making our state a safe place for families to prosper.”

Currently, a person in Hall County must complete an application and consent forms for fingerprinting and background checks at its Probate Court. Applicants answer the questions online before signing the application at the court.

After the paperwork, an employee will scan the applicant’s fingerprints and obtain a background check, which will be reviewed by the judge.

Probate Court Judge Patty Walters Laine said 2020 was a record year for firearms carry licenses, speculating the reasons being “between the pandemic and all of the unrest that we saw.”

In 2019, there were just over 4,000 combined new and renewal license applications.

In 2020, that number jumped to 6,110 applications, with 4,112 of those being new applications.

It dipped back to more than 5,000 total applications in 2021.

“We see what happens on the news and we’ll see a reaction to it every time, the whole time I’ve been in office,” said Laine, who was elected Probate Court judge in 2012. “If there’s a school shooting, we’ll see an increase. If there’s people in Washington [D.C. talking] about changing gun laws, we’ll see a reaction to it.”

Beyond the ability to carry in Georgia, Laine said people get carry licenses to bring their weapons to other states as well as bypassing the point-of-sale background check.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Safety, Georgia shares firearm permit reciprocity with 32 other states, meaning a person from these 32 states with a firearms license can carry a firearm in Georgia and vice versa.

Dunahoo said they are encouraging people to get the carry license still as a way to ensure this reciprocity.

The legislator said he hopes there is more focus on law-abiding citizens wishing to exercise their Second Amendment rights, pushing back on criticism from others that it would lead to more gun violence.

“A law-abiding citizen is the good guy until something snaps,” Dunahoo said. “We don’t know what that could be. It could be self-defense: He had (done) nothing wrong defending himself. It could be he did lose his temper somewhere. That would be not smart, but that’s a very, very small percentage of every day.”

Dunahoo said there would likely be a handful of bills on this issue that would be consolidated throughout the session.

“Building a safer, stronger Georgia starts with hardworking Georgians having the ability to protect themselves and their families,” Kemp said in Smyrna earlier this month. “In the face of rising violent crime across the country, law-abiding citizens should have their constitutional rights protected, not undermined.”

The Times reached out to Gainesville Police and the Hall County Sheriff’s Office on what effects if any, there would be on law enforcement if the bill passed.

Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said the proposed bill would not change much for officers encountering someone with a weapon.

“Right now, unless there is a reason to interact with a citizen — while we’re investigating a crime or complaint, for example — we are not legally entitled to stop and ask someone who simply is carrying a weapon if they are a weapons license holder,” Couch said in a statement. 

Couch said there will unfortunately “always be a criminal element” who will find ways to get guns and use them to commit crimes, but said the focus is on allowing law-abiding citizens to exercise their rights.

“These law-abiding citizens are typically not part of the illegal firearms problem,” Couch said in a statement. “It is clear from the ongoing gun violence in many larger cities — such as Chicago — that laws against people owning/carrying firearms do not curtail gun violence.”

Gainesville Police Cpl. Jessica Van said it was not the department’s place to “make opinionated comments.” 

“This wouldn’t change how we enforce laws or how we respond to calls,” Van wrote in an email.

District 22 state Rep. Wes Cantrell is also a sponsor of the bill.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This article was originally posted by the Gainesville Times, a sister publication to Forsyth County News.