DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. - Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill allowing Georgia residents to carry handguns in public without a license or background check into law Tuesday. The governor signed a second measure that gives concealed weapons permit holders from other states the ability to carry legally in Georgia as well.
The Georgia Senate passed what supporters call the "Constitutional Carry Act" at the beginning of April, sending it to the governor’s desk for signature.
Standing in front of a crowd of supporters outside Gable Sporting Goods in Douglasville, Kemp said the bill is a public safety measure.
"SB 319 makes sure that law-abiding Georgians — law-abiding Georgians, including out daughters and your family too — can protect themselves without having the permission of the state government. The constitution of the United States gives us that right, not the government," Kemp said Tuesday. "HB 218 ensures that individuals who are licensed to carry in another state are also authorized to do so here in Georgia."
During his 2018 campaign for governor, Kemp promised to champion the legislation, but little was done to advance it. The measure was revived this year, now that Kemp faces opposition in this year’s primary from former U.S. Republican Sen. David Perdue and others.
"I think that's great," said David Perdue. "It's too bad it took four years to get it done and it's too bad it took me getting in the race for them to get any energy to get that done, but I'm glad it's getting done."
Kemp, however, pushed back on Perdue's assessment.
"Well, you had to get the votes in the legislature," Gov. Kemp explained. "But look, he was in the United States Senate for six years. I don't ever remember him pushing this bill up there. It'd be great if they did that at the federal level. We wouldn't have to do it with all the states."
Republican supporters say the measure is needed to allow people to more easily protect themselves following a rise in crime - arguing criminals may think twice since they don't know if their potential victim may be carrying.
"This isn't a bill that's going to create more crime. This is allowing law-abiding citizens to carry a weapon without a license in Georgia," said state Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas.
Democrats have pointed out that it does away with a background check that was triggered by the license application, and they say that will fuel shooting deaths.
"This legislation will potentially allow individuals with a criminal history who purchase a gun through a private sale to legally carry a hidden, loaded weapon in our communities," said state Rep. Kimberly Alexander, D-Hiram.
What were the gun carry laws in Georgia?
Prior to the bill signing, Georgians had to have a Weapons Carry License, or WCL, in order to carry a concealed weapon in public, although people could carry rifles and shotguns in many places without a permit and carry unloaded guns in cases. Residents have to apply for a WCL through their county's probate court.
WCL applicants must pass a criminal background check, pay an average fee of $75 and provide their fingerprints. Convicted felons and people who have been hospitalized for mental health problems or received treatment for drugs or alcohol in the years preceding the application are not eligible.
Under the new law, it is still illegal for convicted felons to carry weapons. Consumers still need to pass a background check to purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer in Georgia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.