For The Record

Democratic state lawmakers decry eased Georgia’s gun laws after Texas school shooting

By: - May 27, 2022 3:09 pm

Sen. Michelle Au speaks at the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta spa shootings. Au and other Democrats are calling for more gun safety measures in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

The final days of class before summer break are always a bittersweet time, but students, teachers and parents are carrying an extra emotional burden this year after the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

On Tuesday, a gunman entered the school and killed 21 people, including 19 children. Details about the attack and the police response are still under investigation, but the aftermath has revived the now all too familiar conversation about ways the government can prevent similar attacks.

Mass shootings, many targeting members of racial minority groups, have rocked communities across the nation in recent years. About two weeks before Uvalde, a man opened fire in a Buffalo grocery store in an apparent attempt to murder Black people. Just over a year ago, another shooter attacked Asian American-owned spas in the Atlanta area, killing eight.

Georgia Democrats on Friday blistered the Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Brian Kemp for what they called inaction on gun safety reforms.

“Despite Georgia Democrats dropping a number of common sense gun safety bills since 2021, including universal background checks, mandatory waiting periods and safe storage laws, the GOP majority legislature and Governor Kemp have not lifted a finger to make our community safer from gun violence,” said Sen. Michelle Au, an Atlanta Democrat, during a virtual press conference for Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders hosted by the Democratic Party of Georgia. “Not only that, but this year, Gov. Kemp actively pushed as his flagship piece of legislation a bill removing all restrictions from carrying loaded weapons in public.”

Last month, Kemp signed a new law ending state requirements to carry a concealed handgun. Gun rights supporters call the new law a win for the Second Amendment and Georgians’ right to defend themselves, but Lawrenceville Democratic state Rep. Sam Park said the law contributes to the culture of mass shootings.

“Georgia Republicans, they haven’t been doing nothing when it comes to the gun epidemic in America, they’ve exacerbated it,” he said. “They’ve been pouring fuel on the fire by allowing it to be easier to carry a gun without a permit and has have really fostered the proliferation of guns, whether it was legislation to allow guns everywhere in the state of Georgia, whether it was allowing folks from out of state to bring their gun into into Georgia, which is legislation that they passed this year, whether it was to try and allow guns in churches, which I think nearly every single Republican in the state of Georgia voted yes, thankfully, it wasn’t signed into law.”

Kemp is not likely to reverse his position on gun rights.

In a statement released Wednesday, Kemp said he and his family are mourning the Uvalde victims and outlined a list of efforts his office and the General Assembly have undertaken to increase security at schools, including school safety training and planning programs led by the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, funding for school security improvements and reforms to the state’s mental health policies.

“Focusing on school safety and improving Georgia’s mental health system are two issues that we tackled immediately upon taking office in 2019,” Kemp said in a statement. “We want to reassure Georgia families today that we have worked closely with the General Assembly and state agencies to ensure our students and educators have secure learning environments. We will continue to do all we can to protect Georgians – and especially our state’s most treasured asset, our children.”

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released in January found 60% of Georgians strongly disagreed with allowing concealed handguns in public without a license and another 10% somewhat disagreed.

Still, many state Republican elected officials have the opposite political incentive. They represent rural areas of the state where firearms are culturally important and government attempts to curtail them are viewed as an infringement of fundamental rights.

That doesn’t mean Democrats will stop trying, Au said.

“We are not going to give up because the environment around gun safety is changing, and with each successive tragedy, I think that we’re creating an environment where people are going to demand that our leaders start to at least have this conversation in public about passing, or at least discussing common sense gun safety legislation,” she said. “We’re going to continue to drop the universal background check bill, having a waiting period, and safe storage laws, very common sense things that are supported by a majority of Georgians. And really, it’s going to take time, and it’s going to take pressure like this to cause them to move, but times are changing, and they cannot continue to refuse to listen and refuse to act.”

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Ross Williams
Ross Williams

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting.