Last month, Georgia’s state legislature passed the controversial “Safe Carry Protection Law,” which is commonly known as the “Guns Everywhere” bill and has been deemed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) as the most comprehensive pro-gun rights law introduced in recent history.
Among its provisions, many of which are already present in other states, the law would allow licensed Georgians to carry concealed weapons in bars, clubs, airports, churches that opt in and certain government buildings. The bill originally included a provision that allowed guns to be carried on college campuses, but this was dropped after public opposition. The bill is currently awaiting the approval of Republican Governor Nathan Deal and is expected to be signed into law.
The bill was passed on a party line vote, with the sole exception of 2014 gubernatorial candidate and State Senator Jason Carter, and likely aims to strengthen a Republican core of voters in preparation for this fall’s state elections.
We at the Wheel acknowledge the political nature of gun legislation, but regardless of one’s position on the rights of personal gun ownership, both Democrats and Republicans should strive toward the goal of reducing gun violence.
Proponents of this bill claim that the expanded presence of “good guys with guns” will prevent incidents such as mass shootings, while the bill’s opponents argue that putting even more guns on the street – especially in bars, where risky, alcohol-fueled decisions are more likely to take place – or in other often-crowded places like nightclubs or airport lobbies will lead to an even greater amount of gun violence. Additionally, this bill includes a staunch “Stand Your Ground” law, an “absolute defense” that defendants who use guns in violent attacks can use in court.
We at the Wheel believe this legislation does little to address the root causes of gun violence, however complex they may be, and in light of its extremely likely approval, we believe that it is imperative to re-examine our state’s background check laws, especially regarding mental health.
Currently, Georgia’s code only places restrictions on gun ownership on those who have been hospitalized for alcohol or drug abuse or mental health issues within the past five years. This standard is extremely lax compared to states such as Hawaii, which restricts individuals from owning firearms if they have been acquitted of a crime on the grounds of mental illness or have been deemed not responsible for a criminal act due to a mental disease. The state of Hawaii also restricts the possession of firearms to individuals diagnosed with a significant behavioral, emotional or mental disorder as defined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
We realize that restrictions such as these may further stigmatize mental health issues, but we feel that this law’s broad-sweeping expansion of gun-carrying zones is incompatible with the current background check process required by Georgia. This law, more than anything, is a brash political statement that has neglected to realistically take into account its implications. If the Georgia legislature intends to move forward with expanding gun-carrying zones, we encourage them to confront the issue of mental health that has been swept under the rug for so long in national debates surrounding firearm possession. While the “Safe Carry Protection Law” may partially be a political gesture to show state sponsorship of gun rights, we believe that this may set a dangerous legal precedent and may further politicize and exacerbate the issues surrounding gun violence.
The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel‘s editorial board.