The panel held its first hearing on House Bill 679 with witnesses for and against but did not vote. The measure by Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, would allow anyone who can legally own a gun to carry one without having to get a permit from a county probate judge.
It would not change who can have a gun or where they can take one.
Spencer didn’t make a long speech but merely asked the committee to consider the bill from a philosophical standpoint.
“I ask you all to look in your conscience .... search your hearts ... search your minds,” he said.
Officials from three gun-rights groups testified in favor of the bill, arguing that it would remove a barrier to citizens’ exercising of their right under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. Besides, they said, the permits do nothing to prevent crime.
“Criminals do not stop and ask for permission to carry firearms,” said Nathan Adams, with the Georgia Campaign for Liberty.
Patrick Parsons, executive director of Georgia Gun Owners warned Chairwoman Ann Purcell that she would face the same political consequences for letting the bill die without a committee vote as she would for voting against legislation dear to gun-rights advocates. To make the point, he said 17,000 gun owners have signed petitions supporting the bill.
Purcell, an avid hunter, jumped in to say she has announced no plans to let the bill die.
“There has been no refusal. Incorrect information has been set out,” said Purcell, R-Rincon, noting the committee has had only one other meeting to consider bills this session. “No one has called me, and there has been an assumption and incorrect information in regards to this bill not being brought up before the committee.”
Only one witness spoke against it, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, chairman of the legislative committee of the Georgia Sheriffs Association. He said while he supports the right of private citizens to carry a gun, the association members voted to oppose ending permits.
“We consider it a public-safety issue, and we’re very concerned that many other legal impediments would result in that, and we’re simply opposed to it,” he said.
Spencer has five other legislators cosponsoring the bill, including one who sits on the committee. He said Purcell hasn’t promised him the committee will vote on it but said he will ask for another hearing to consider some wording changes recommended by supporters.