Editor, The Georgia concealed weapons bill, HB 615, is in sub-committee. I have major concerns about the bill. First, the talking points used to push the bill along draw focus away from the greatest risk of violence we face. Second, the bill seems to set up a challenge between gun rights advocates and property owners. Third, the bill doesn’t seem to allow consideration of legitimate threat assessments needed for hospitals and other government entities with valid concerns about the safety of staff and clients.
A man, woman, or a child is at greater risk of being injured by someone he or she knows rather than by a stranger. Yes, that there are victims of crimes committed by strangers. Yes, a weapon can keep you from becoming a victim. But, overusing fearful images of violence at the hands of a stranger distort the truth. It draws away from a serious problem, perhaps the most serious problem with violent crime; most often, we are victims of those we know, even by those who make claims of love and affection. The numbers are not marginal. In fact, for our area, they are eye-opening. I attempted to confirm the number of reports with local county law enforcement but made no progress.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Database shows the following crimes reported for Bryan and Liberty Counties in 2008: murder 2, rape 13, assaults 237 and robbery 94, totaling 346. These numbers do not exclude crimes that may have been committed by non-family associates of the victim. These are serious crimes in which I hope justice was served and those victims received the proper support.
In comparison, the family violence reports for Bryan and Liberty Counties, during the same period total 1,136: 30 with a firearm, 39 with a cutting/knife, 770 with hand or fist, 297 with other weapons. These include: 1 with fatal injury, and 6 sexual abuse cases. To restate, 1,136 vs. 346, that’s 3 times (300%) more reported family violence cases. Self and family protection takes on a totally different meaning.
Tim Bearden, sponsor of House Bill 615’s wrote, “My legislation will clarify that lawful adults may possess legal firearms all places where the property owners allow.” Atlanta Constitution Journal, Opinion, 6:56 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13.
This seems simple enough. The clauses deleted from the bill seem to do more than that. Out of the 11 pages of deletions which increase, some would say restore, the rights of permit holders, here is the clause concerning property rights: A person possessing a license issued pursuant to Code Section 16-11-129 shall be permitted to carry a firearm in every location in the state not listed in subsection (a) of this Code section, notwithstanding any other Code section, provided that nothing in this subsection shall limit any pre-existing right to exclude others from private property.
Subsection (a) lists the following restrictions:
A person shall be guilty of a misdemeanor when he or she carries an explosive compound, firearm, or knife designed for the purpose of offense or defense while in a portion of a building that, houses a courtroom or a jail or prison. All other restrictions have been deleted.
The deletions include firearms as related to alcohol sales, explosives carried into public gatherings, consideration for religious functions and events, considerations for hospitals (though not directly mentioned they are affected), even private events.
The bill does not leave room for legitimate risk assessments. There are more high risk situations other than legal and judicial buildings. Let’s say like around bulk oxygen storage tanks at the county hospital, an emergency department, or an intensive care unit. Will some hospitals have to allow weapons on campuses at all?
The bill may change where religious organizations may choose to hold their services or how they handle security.
Some of my concerns may be covered in other laws. But, if the bill is meant to simplify and clarify, some reference to those other laws should be listed.
Rep. Bearden wrote back to me that some of these type issues will have to be sorted out in debate.
I suggest addressing specific concerns about private property rights or risk assessments directly in HB615. For example, if a permit carries a weapon onto private property, despite the wishes of the property owner, the possible charges should be listed. The bill can still remain simple and clear.
The bill should include provisions for hospitals and other government entities that can show a valid threat to the safety of clientele or staff. This, also, can be done while keeping the bill clear and simple.
Addressing concerns like this in HB615 sends a clear message that the bill is really meant as more than just 2nd Amendment credentialing.
More about the bill is available and the pending legislation can be found at http://www.legis.state.ga.us/legis/2009_10/sum/hb615.htm.