Georgia lawmakers move to loosen gun laws after shootings

Georgia state senators voted 34-18 on Monday for a bill that loosens the state’s gun laws less than two weeks after police say a man bought a gun and killed eight people at three different massage businesses.

Although some Democrats introduced measures to require a waiting period before buying a gun in Georgia, Monday’s vote shows the continuing push in Republican-controlled states to extend gun rights rather than tighten them.

"I’m proud to say this bill will protect the Second Amendment rights of Georgians," said state Sen. Bo Hatchett, a Republican from Cornelia.

In Georgia, the conflict could figure heavily into 2022 state elections, when Democrats hope to make further gains in a state that had in recent years been dominated by Republicans, until Joe Biden won Georgia’s electoral votes in November and Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won Senate runoffs in January.

Because the Senate made changes to House Bill 218, it goes back to the House for more debate. If the House agrees with the Senate changes, the measure would go to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature or veto. It would take effect as soon at the governor signs it.

Minority Democrats attacked the measure as wrongheaded, saying the United States already has too many guns and too much gun violence. Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Republican, said Georgia and the United States should instead study what can be done to reduce violence.

"We don’t have to see three establishments shot up and eight people dead in our state, to be followed six days later by 10 more people dead," Parent said, referring also to last week’s shooting at a Colorado supermarket. "We don’t have to live in fear of the next mass shooting. We don’t have to bear this huge number of grieving families."

The measure would loosen Georgia law to allow anyone from any state that has a concealed weapons permit to carry their gun in Georgia. Before now, that privilege was only extended to residents of states that recognized Georgia’s law.

"We’re going to open that up," Hatchett said. "Anyone with a concealed weapons permit in another state that comes into Georgia will have reciprocity. Georgia will recognize those."

The measure would expand prohibitions against seizing firearms during a state of emergency to say government officials can’t prohibit the manufacture or sale of guns during an emergency, can’t refuse to accept weapons carry license applications if courthouses are open, can’t suspend or revoke weapons licenses. Officials also wouldn’t be allowed to limit operating hours of gun stores, gun makers or shooting ranges unless every business in an area is subject to the same operating restrictions.

The measure says the governor can’t use his emergency powers to suspend the law, unlike most other laws. Gun rights advocates have reacted with alarm to restrictions imposed during the pandemic, fearing that they could be turned on gun owners, although few have. However, some Democrats said that with indications that suicides and domestic violence have risen during the last year, there might be a reason to consider restrictions on sales during the pandemic.

"Firearms don’t make people safer during a pandemic," said Sen. Michelle Au, a Johns Creek Democrat.

The bill also prevents the creation of any multijurisdictional database with information about anyone who even applies for a weapons license and requires agencies to auction confiscated firearms at least once a year, making sure agencies can’t just hold firearms. If a city, county or state agency didn’t hold the required auction, the bill allows anyone who wanted to buy the guns to sue.

Added onto the measure was an amendment not related to guns that is designed to keep the governor from regulating religious gatherings and closing businesses during a state of emergency.

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