Gov. Brian Kemp claps outside of Douglasville’s Gable Sporting Goods after he signed a bill ending a permit requirement to carry concealed handguns in public. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder
The first political event 30-year-old Nick Champion ever attended was Tuesday outside a sporting goods store to see Gov. Brian Kemp officially end a state permit requirement to carry concealed handguns in Georgia.
The clock repairman from Douglasville was among the dozens of supporters of the GOP’s so-called constitutional carry bill who gathered at Gable Sporting Goods off a main strip in the county seat of Douglas County.
Kemp was joined Tuesday by Attorney General Chris Carr, the bill’s sponsors in the House and Senate, Marty Kemp and their daughters outside a gun store where the Republican governor said he purchased his daughter Lucy her first firearm.
The governor’s signature makes Georgia the 25th state to allow lawful gun owners to carry a firearm in public without a permit, a law that for many gun rights advocates is considered the gold standard. Gone is also the up to $75 fee that accompanied the permit.
Permit-less carry was the focus of counter programming Tuesday from gun safety advocacy groups like Moms Demand Action, Georgia Democratic lawmakers, and a group of mayors. Opponents called the law dangerous and said it removes a last-defense background check that weeds out thousands of applicants with criminal histories or mental health problems.
Kemp said many people cannot wait upwards of a year for some local probate judges to issue a permit, a problem during the peak of the pandemic as court shutdowns led to slower processing of newer applications and renewals.
“You certainly shouldn’t have to have a piece of paper from the government to legally carry a weapon,” he said. “You’re still gonna have to go through background checks at stores just like this to purchase a firearm. All the laws that have always been in place about who can carry weapons and who can’t, this doesn’t change that.”
Champion celebrated being liberated from the extra steps to renew his license. He argued safeguards remain in place, pointing to the background checks on the federal level to purchase firearms from licensed dealers and the loss of gun rights for those who break the law.
“My wife’s carry license just expired about a month ago and in the meantime, before we could get it renewed, if she was carrying somewhere like in her purse, that’d be illegal,” Champion said. “And I told her you know, if you’re gonna carry it, carry it open, so people see it that way.”
About an hour before the bill signing ceremony, a group of Georgia Democratic legislators gathered near the gun store to hold a press conference condemning the governor and other political leaders for weaning gun laws.
“It’s a sad day across Georgia when our leaders care more about their political careers than ensuring our communities are safe,” Atlanta Democratic state Rep. Roger Bruce said. “Georgians should take notice — if your governor prioritizes votes over our lives, it’s time we elect a new governor.”
Seven mayors sent Kemp a letter prior to the signing urging him not to sign off on a law they say will make it more difficult for law enforcement and increase the likelihood of guns being stolen as more people leave their weapons in unlocked cars and other unsecured locations.
“Officers also have warned that this law would ‘cause an increase in gun crimes,’ ‘put us backward,’ and leave them in ‘uncharted waters’ when it comes to determining whether an armed individual is lawfully carrying a firearm,” read the letter signed by the mayors of Buena Vista, Brookhaven, Toomsboro, Athens-Clarke County, Cuthbert, Savannah and Union City.
Over 5,200 applicants were denied a concealed weapon permit in Georgia in 2020, mostly because of prior criminal records or domestic violence history.
“Shame on Kemp, and shame on every lawmaker who joined him in ramming this reckless bill through,” said Courtney Spriggs, former law enforcement officer and a volunteer with the Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action. “They have undermined public safety and ignored those fighting to keep their communities safe every step of the way, but we aren’t going anywhere. We will be holding our leaders accountable for the violence they’re enabling, we will make sure of it.”
But Kemp also drew fire from his right. The governor’s GOP primary challenger, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, questioned why Kemp did not get permit-less carry done sooner. Kemp campaigned on the issue back in 2018.
The number of annual applications for concealed and open carry reached about 300,000 a couple years ago as people paid up to a $75 fee to have it processed and a smaller fee to renew every handful of years.
The law required that an application submitted to a probate court in Georgia must be granted or denied within 10 days of receiving the background report.
The state could refuse to issue a license if an applicant has a felony conviction, a conviction for carrying a weapon without a license, certain mental health issues or a conviction for a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence
While the idea of permit-less carry is an easy concept to understand, there are some complicated parts in unraveling parts of the law, said Matt Kilgo, an independent program attorney for the U.S. LawShield.
The organization is collaborating with GA2A, an organization that advocates for expanded gun rights, to hold free information sessions on the law through the end of April.
“The most basic concept is anywhere in the law where it requires you to have a weapons carry license, it now requires you to be in lawful weapons carrier,” he said.
“You also get the benefit of not having to go through the background check every single time you buy a firearm,” Kilgo said.
Under the new law, carrying a firearm is still off limits in places such as courthouses, mental health facilities, polling places and also in churches without permission.
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