A man with a Kemp for governor sign listens as Gov. Brian Kemp announces his support for so-called constitutional carry in Georgia. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
Gov. Brian Kemp plans to make firearms a central issue of the coming legislative session with the announcement of his support of legislation to expand gun rights.
Kemp did not go into specifics speaking at a Wednesday morning press conference at a massive gun store and indoor shooting range in Smyrna, but he pledged to support “constitutional carry,” a term used by gun rights advocates to describe states where those who are entitled to own a firearm do not need a license.
“It will be a true constitutional carry, and I’ll kind of defer that to us working the details out,” Kemp said. “And the good thing is I think there’s like 12 constitutional carry bills that are filed, many by members that are standing behind me today, so we’re going to work with them to perfect the legislation, and we’ll be talking more about that in the days to come, but this is basically just going to give people their constitutional right to carry without a piece of paper from the government.”
Kemp can’t pass legislation on his own, but he wields significant influence at the state Capitol as the Republican governor of a Republican majority state. Kemp made gun issues a central issue of his 2018 campaign, gaining national attention for one ad in which Kemp jokingly pointed a firearm at a young man who wanted to woo his daughter.
Last year, a bill to expand gun rights faltered after a deadly shooting spree at Asian American-owned spas in Cherokee County and Atlanta shocked the nation.
House Speaker David Ralston told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month he could be open to constitutional carry legislation during the session, depending on the specifics of language.
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan struck a similar tone speaking with reporters at the Capitol Wednesday, calling himself a strong Second Amendment supporter, but saying he will need to see the details of Kemp’s proposal before deciding whether he will support it.
“I’m looking for which vehicle makes the most sense for the 11 million Georgians,” he said
Kemp’s announcement comes after former Sen. David Perdue, his most serious challenger in the GOP primary, criticized the governor for not passing a gun right expansion sooner.
“Law-abiding citizens should be able to exercise their Second Amendment rights to carry a firearm without having to pay for and carry a government permit,” Perdue said in a statement. “Twenty-one states have constitutional carry, but despite his promises on the campaign trail, Brian Kemp has failed to make it a reality in Georgia. As Governor, I’ll work with the state legislature to finally enact constitutional carry.”
Speaking at the Cobb County gun store, Kemp defended his record on public safety, including his support for bills to prevent cities and counties from cutting their police budgets and impose stricter punishment for street racing.
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“I made a lot of promises when I ran,” Kemp said. “Georgians will realize if they look at my record in conjunction with the people that are standing with me today from the Georgia General Assembly, we’ve been fulfilling all those promises — heartbeat legislation, the largest teacher pay raise in state history, what we’re doing with local private sector health insurance costs, trying to get more access to people on Medicaid, even though the Biden administration continues to block us on that issue, and many, many other things.”
“But we’ve also been dealing with a global pandemic,” he added. “It doesn’t make my priorities and what I promised people I would do any different. We’re going to tackle that this year, and there seems to be a lot of legislative support for it.”
There was plenty of support among the crowd at the gun store as well, which included local elected officials and gun rights activists from around the state.
For Reggie Dickey of Effingham County, president of the Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation, Kemp’s proposal is just a matter of cutting red tape.
“The only people that’s going to be able to carry is people who can legally own one anyway. It’s not going to help the criminals. It’s just going to keep it just like it is. It’s just going to be less hassle for people to get it,” he said.
Dickey, one of many in the crowd wearing a Kemp for governor sticker on his shirt, said he’s committed to voting for the incumbent in the primary.
“He’s somebody you can talk to, somebody you can depend on to do what he says,” Dickey said. “He’s going to try as hard as he can. I’ve always found him honest, and that’s hard to find in a politician.”
Lisa Adkins, a data analyst from Kennesaw who also wore a Kemp sticker, also supports the proposed changes, calling them a “no-brainer.” She said she’s planning to vote for Kemp in the June primary, but she could be persuaded to support Perdue.
“Arguments don’t do a lot for me, I’d rather see action,” she said.
Kemp’s opponents on both sides of the aisle were quick to respond, with Perdue taking credit for the announcement.
“I’m glad Brian Kemp is answering my call for constitutional carry in Georgia,” Perdue tweeted. “But real leaders lead from the start – and it’s time Georgia had a Governor who shows principled leadership when it matters most.”
Gun safety group Moms Demand Action said such legislation would endanger law enforcement officers and the public by making it easier for people with dangerous backgrounds to carry weapons.
“While these politicians are embracing radical policies like permitless carry in a pathetic and dangerous effort to curry favor among gun extremists, we’ll be fighting for laws that would actually prevent gun violence in our communities and make Georgia safer – starting with repealing ‘Stand Your Ground,’” said Georgia Moms Demand Action volunteer leader Courtney Spriggs in a statement.
The campaign of Stacey Abrams, the Democrat Kemp or Perdue will likely face after the primary, also took a swipe at the move.
“The same guy who pointed a gun at a teenager on TV now panders with reckless proposals threatening Georgia lives,” tweeted Abrams’ campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo. “As her opponents run to dangerous extremes and fight desperately to salvage their political careers, @staceyabrams is fighting for Georgians and their safety.”
Georgia Recorder senior reporter Stanley Dunlap contributed to this report.
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