On April 23, 2014 Georgia Governor, Nathan Deal signed the State's "Safe Carry Protection Act," expanding the ability of Georgians to carry firearms in public. With the July 1, 2014 effective date, the debate over gun ownership and carry rights continues to intensify. Pundits on both sides of the issue have been afforded plenty of fodder in the ongoing debate over public safety and the rights of individuals to carry firearms. The National Rifle Association has declared Georgia's new law as, "the most comprehensive pro-gun bill in State history." On the opposite side of the debate, Americans for Responsible Solutions (a gun control group founded by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords), describes Georgia's new law as, "the most extreme gun bill in America."
House Bill 60, which goes in to law on July 1, 2014, will allow licensed gun owners in Georgia, as well as visitors from 28 other states, wide latitude to carry a firearm in many public places previously off limits to personal firearms. While saddled with several caveats, the new law will allow individuals to carry a gun in bars (including parking lots), government buildings, places of worship and, with approval from appropriate school officials, in school safety zones, at school functions or on school-provided transportation. Gun-wielding bar patrons can be forced to leave the premises at the demand of the property owner and those who wish to carry a side arm to Church must obtain express approval from Church leaders. Government buildings where entry is typically screened during business hours may continue to prohibit firearms, however, government administration buildings without screening personnel will now be open to those with a sidearm.
The new law leaves business owners and local government officials scratching their heads as to appropriate safety measures. At least one Georgia city (Norcross) has begun taking steps to rename its main administration building to "City Hall and Municipal Court." With the additional designation as a "Municipal Court," the City believes that the building, as a whole, can remain a gun-free zone. The City of Buford, Georgia has begun the process of putting plans in place for additional security and screenings at public meetings in an effort to establish wholesale exemption from carry privileges for visitors. Georgia localities are no stranger to unique regulation of firearms. In 1982, the City of Kennesaw, Georgia unanimously passed an ordinance requiring "every head of household to maintain a firearm together with ammunition." While the law has been loosely enforced, some attribute its passage to a decline in burglary rates and uphold the ordinance as a reason for Kennesaw maintaining one of the lowest crime rates in the county.
In addition to its open carry provisions, the new Georgia law also expands the State's "Stand Your Ground" law providing that "a person will be immune from prosecution in using deadly force in self-defense or defense of others or property even if the person utilizes a weapon in violation of [the Georgia's Firearms and Weapons Act]." The new law further dispenses with any requirements for firearms dealers to maintain records of sales and purchases (federal recordkeeping requirements still apply), strips the Governor of his authority to suspend or limit the carrying or sell of guns, prohibits any ban or restriction of lawful firearm possession in public housing, removes a fingerprinting requirement for license renewals and prohibits the maintenance of a multi-jurisdiction database of information on license holders.
Georgia's new gun law has stepped up the debate on the Constitutional issues surrounding firearms and related concerns over public safety. The reaction of the public and business communities has drawn quick action and commentary from critics and proponents of the new law.