This past March marked one year since the shooting of three Atlanta-based spas, which led to the deaths of eight individuals, of whom six were women of Asian descent.  That same year, 2021, the state of Georgia was ranked 9th in the nation for its high rate of gun violence. Despite the continued increase in gun deaths and gun violence in the state, the so-called “Constitutional Carry Act of 2021” passed both the upper and lower houses of the General Assembly and has been signed by the governor. This bill removes the requirement for those carrying a concealed weapon to obtain a license from the probate court in their county. This bill has dire effects on the public’s safety, especially racialized minority groups, as well as the safety of law enforcement. Therefore, it is imperative that Georgians elect officials in the 2022 election cycle that will work to undo the harm caused by this bill.
The state of Georgia’s system of oversight for gun ownership was already weak. Before this bill, GA law requires individuals wanting to carry their concealed weapon to apply for a Weapons Concealed License (WCL) through the probate court in their county of residence. The application process included the conduction of a background check that looks at previous criminal records as well as mental health history. Additionally, a license fee had to be paid to officially obtain the permit. Note that nowhere in this process is there a requirement for a gun safety training program that informs the owner on how to use and store their weapon properly. This greatly increases the risk of gun owners improperly using their weapons in response to a dangerous situation or their improper use leading to the creation of a dangerous situation. For example, the improper storage of the weapon could lead to theft which could place it into the hands of an unfit individual or, worse, it could end up in the hands of a child or someone else unfit to use a gun. Furthermore, this process of background checks does not apply to individuals buying guns from a private seller. Lastly, GA’s law enforcement cannot ask an individual for a WCL to verify that they can carry a gun publicly. With these laws already creating space for more gun violence, the Constitutional Carry Act only leaves the public and police force more vulnerable than they already were.
Permit-less carrying of concealed weapons limits the accountability that licensing laws have on gun owners. As the GA lead of Moms Demand Action, a pro-gun control organization, Courtney Spriggs states, with the existing inability of officers to ask for WCLs and the waiving of the entire licensing system by this bill, “we just have to live our lives wondering if the person who has a gun is a responsible gun owner.” Additionally, reframing the WCL from being required to optional, if one wants to carry their gun in another state, prevents all individuals carrying a gun from going through a background check. This is due to the current law that doesn’t require gun transfers to be “subject to a background check requirement” meaning one individual who did go through a background check can give their gun to another individual who did not. With permits being cut out, there is no way to hold that person who received the gun through the transfer accountable in terms of being mentally fit as well as having a clear criminal record. In addition to accountability, permit-less carrying leaves the public, specifically children and racialized minorities at risk of gun violence.
GVpedia, an organization that aims to reduce gun violence through its research, concluded through an analysis of CDC data that the passing of constitutional carry laws leads to “a 22% increase in gun homicide for the three years after the law’s passage.” This increase in the homicide rate impacts people of color disproportionally, as reported by the Giffords Law Center. In fact, the Law Center found that Black men are the victim of homicide in 52% of the cases nationwide, “despite comprising less than 6% of the population.” Access to guns without proper background checks “promotes a culture of [extremist] intimidation.” In addition to Black Americans being the most vulnerable to gun violence, children are also highly at risk.
The Giffords Law Center found that “guns are the leading cause of death for children under 18.” In 2020, 2270 children among this demographic died from guns. This is even more than deaths caused by car accidents. The Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics also uses the same statistics, in an article published in the Georgia Health News, to advocate for stricter gun laws that not only regulate how guns are stored to prevent children from gaining access and getting injured but also reduce the presence of guns in the public sphere by limiting current open and concealed carry laws.
In addition to academics, researchers and health professionals advocating against bills such as SB 319, even Georgians are not for this law. In January of this year, a poll by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed that “70% of Georgia voters surveyed – and 54% of Republicans – believe gun owners should be required to get” the WCL in order to “carry a concealed” weapon. Legislators and the Governor cannot even claim that passing SB 319 is for the sake of the Georgians they are sworn to serve.
Gun reform can take the following forms: implement universal background checks that are more robust and effective, prohibit firearms from being carried at political protests and sensitive areas including schools; and require 8 or more hours of approved handgun safety training. Rather than deteriorating public safety and placing law enforcement, children and minorities in the line of fire in the name of constitutional freedom more must be done to curb the existing gun violence occurring as a result of bad policymaking.
 https://www.usconcealedcarry.com/resources/ccw_reciprocity_map/ga-gun-laws/#:~:text=Concealed%20carry%20is%20legal%20for,concealed%20carry%20license%20in%20Georgia; https://www.ajc.com/politics/georgia-state-legislature/georgia-senate-gives-final-approval-to-permit-less-carry-gun-bill/NWATEZOGZZDZTES7N6UHE3ADV4/
 https://everytownresearch.org/solution/safety-training/; https://www.usconcealedcarry.com/resources/ccw_reciprocity_map/ga-gun-laws/#:~:text=Concealed%20carry%20is%20legal%20for,concealed%20carry%20license%20in%20Georgia
 https://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-violence-prevention-and-policy/_docs/Impact%20of%20Handgun%20Purchaser%20Licensing%20White%20Paper%202022.pdf; https://efsgv.org/learn/policies/carrying-firearms-in-public/; https://efsgv.org/learn/policies/universal-background-checks/