Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Georgia is Pushing Gun Law Boundaries in Wrong Direction

By Alice Johnson

A few months ago, Georgia made it legal for people with permits to carry firearms in a concealed manner into state parks and recreational areas, onto public transportation and into restaurants that serve alcohol.

The General Assembly passed these very serious public safety provisions even though no committee ever held a meeting about them. There was no scrutiny by any professional law enforcement personnel or restaurant owners, never any opportunity for public comment.

The language was added in a conference committee on the last day of the session -- a committee that met without posting any notices, in a room in the basement of the Capitol, without openness or oversight. And 60 percent of legislators voted for it two hours before the session ended on the most hectic and chaotic day, as the clock wound toward midnight and the end of the General Assembly for another year.

Currently, the Senate Firearms Law Study Committee is preparing to remove what is left of the “public gathering” section that the new law decimated -- making it possible for firearms to be carried in churches, in schools, on college campuses and in government-owned buildings. Their plan is to allow carrying concealed handguns anywhere, at any time, by anyone who can pass a fingerprint background check and pay the $15 application fee the state requires.

Does it make sense to do these things? Is there a public safety imperative that justifies these changes in the law? Can we trust a permit holder to shoot straight, know safety rules and practice emotional good judgment when no training is required to get a permit? Why do these kinds of crazy bills get passed?

At the first meeting of the Senate firearms study committee only one person was allowed to testify about gun policy -- a member of the pro-gun group that pushed for the new law.

There are places where carrying a concealed weapon by anyone other than law enforcement should not be allowed. No guns in airports, or bus stations or on buses or trains. No guns at athletic events and political rallies. No guns in church or temple or mosque. No guns in schools or on college campuses. No guns in places where large groups of people gather -- street festivals and parades and government meetings.

People who carry guns expect to use them. Using a firearm is a very calculated action for which law enforcement officers must retrain every year. They train on keeping their emotions under strict control. They practice scenarios to identify the difference between a homeless person reaching for his identification and reaching for a gun. They must prove they can shoot their weapon accurately, and they must know all the laws.

Many law enforcement personnel spend their whole career never having discharged their weapon because they know what else to do to defuse a violent situation.

Guns in schools make the least amount of sense. It would be a serious hazard if teachers and other school employees carried them in our high schools and elementary schools. But there is an effort to allow that as well.

And what about guns on college campuses where there is binge drinking and a high incidence of depression?

How do laws like this get passed? It’s simple. Many legislators are looking to get re-elected. Gun groups are big players in the special-interest influence game -- hiring expensive local lobbyists, spending money on lavish dinners and golf outings, offering assistance for election campaigns. They will run candidates against someone who didn’t vote the way they wanted. Sometimes they use other groups to hide their activities. They will use any tactic to get their way.

Recently it was discovered that the NRA had paid a woman to spy on gun-violence-prevention groups -- to earn their trust and then use it to defeat their efforts. The gun-violence-prevention movement is led by people who have lost loved ones to gun violence, people in groups with no potential for financial or political gain, people who never forget even for a day the loved one they have lost.

What kind of people would stoop to spying on and lying to these survivors? Only those who would put gun-industry profit ahead of everything else.

And nobody can think this is good policy.
Johnson is the executive director of Georgians for Gun Safety.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the Georgia Forum. 9/08

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