Georgia “Safe Carry” law — Just the beginning?

May 5, 2014

Constitution Right to Bear ArmsOn April 23, in a ceremony attended by hundreds of supporters, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 60 (Act 604), The Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014. This bill, which critics have nicknamed the Guns Everywhere Bill, radically alters the rights of gun owners in Georgia. HB 60 is one of the most divisive pieces of legislation to pass in Georgia, proponents hailed the day of signing as “a great day for freedom” while opponents called the bill “extremism in action”.

HB 60 takes effect July 1st, 2014. Due to its revolutionary provisions and the media attention surrounding this bill, it is necessary to examine the provisions of HB 60.  While the signed version of HB 60 is controversial, the law may only be testing the waters for future expansion of the rights of gun owners in Georgia.  HB 60, as originally introduced had many provisions that were not included in the final bill.

What does HB 60 do?

Upon signing the law Governor Deal commented that “This law gives added protections to those who have played by the rules – and who can protect themselves and others from those who don’t play by the rules”.

One of the provisions to receive the most press is HB 60’s expansion of Georgia’s “Stand Your Ground” law, a self-defense provision made famous due to the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case in Florida. Effective July 1st, Georgia’s law is expanded to now prohibit the prosecution of individuals who illegally possess a firearm if that firearm is used in self defense (§ 1-3). This protection does not expand to persons using a weapon commonly known as a “ ‘rocket launcher,’ ‘bazooka,’ or ‘recoilless rifle’ which fires explosive or nonexplosive rockets designed to injure or kill personnel or destroy heavy armor”, machine guns, grenades, or mortars.

HB 60 also includes a provision inspired by the Sandy Hook shootings that allows schools to authorize certain individuals to carry firearms in school safety zones, at school functions, or on school-provided transportation.

HB 60 allows the concealed carry of firearms in multiple locations where Georgia law previously banned guns including: public housing (§ 1-2); bars (§ 1-5); churches, at the discretion of the governing body (§ 1-5); and all government buildings without screening checkpoints (§ 1-5). One of the more contentious provisions allows firearms to be carried at airports (the “airport drive, general parking area, walkways or shops and areas of the terminal that are outside the screening checkpoint and that are normally open to unscreened passengers or visitors to the airport) (§ 1-9). The area beyond the TSA security checkpoint is a Federal matter, though the Georgia law does allow for those carrying firearms into the security checkpoints to turn around instead of surrendering firearms.

What does the future hold?

An early version of HB 60 would also have allowed concealed carry on college campuses, and would have required churches to opt out of allowing guns (instead of opting in to allowing guns). These provisions were dropped to gain support for the bill. Some gun rights activists have already begun to criticize HB 60 as not going far enough.

If this law is considered a success in a year or two in Georgia, other states may consider expanding concealed carry, while Georgia could see efforts to expand HB 60. Of course, if HB 60 is not seen as successful, opponents will increase pressure on the state legislature to repeal the law and use Georgia as evidence that other states should not expand their firearm carry provisions in this manner. Either way, this is not the end of this debate in Georgia or other states.

HB 60 is a sweeping, drastic change to gun control legislation.  This law may be the springboard for Georgia and other states to have significantly different gun control from what is currently the norm throughout the country.  HB 60 is part of a host of new gun laws taking effect across the country.  It will be interesting to see what the future has in store, especially after the 2014 elections, which could bring legislators looking to change federal gun regulations in addition to state law.