Editor's note: A portion of this story has been updated to more accurately depict federal gun requirements.
ATLANTA — Groups on both sides of the gun-control issue are springing into action Wednesday over a new bill that would allow nearly anyone to carry a concealed weapon without having to get a permit first.
Freshman Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, prefiled House Bill 679 to eliminate the permit requirement to carry a gun or knife longer than 5 inches that’s not visible. Currently, about 300,000 Georgians have permits.
The permits are issued by local probate judges who certify that the permit holder isn’t prohibited by law from having a concealed weapon, such as children, those convicted of a crime or anyone who’s been hospitalized for mental illness or addiction to drugs or alcohol in the last five years.
The pre-amble to the bill explains Spencer’s reasoning.
“The mere potential to deprive someone of life, liberty, or property should never be considered a crime in a free and just society,” it stated. “Evil resides in the heart of the individual, not in material objects. Since objects or ‘instrumentalities’ in and of themselves are not dangerous or evil, in a free and just society, the civil government should not ban or restrict their possession or use.”
Georgia Gun Owners sent an e-mail Wednesday to its 6,000 members urging them to support the bill. It says the bill would remove headaches for gun enthusiasts, such as the $100 annual fee to the county, fingerprinting and delays in getting a permit approved and background checks.
“Law-abiding citizens should not have to be fingerprinted and cataloged like common criminals just to be able to defend themselves, their family and their property,” Spencer said. “In this day and age, with our firearms rights under full-fledged attack from Washington, and even here in the state, it’s time to finally remove the government-imposed barriers to private protection and self-defense.”
An estimated 40 percent of guns are purchased at gun shows. Federally licensed firearms dealers selling at gun shows are required to conduct instant background checks but individuals at shows selling guns on an occasional basis are exempt.
“If we don’t vet folks who want to carry concealed in the state of Georgia, then there will be no vetting at all for 40 percent of all guns,” said Alice Johnson, executive director of Georgians for Gun Safety, a coalition of gun-control groups.
Johnson said her group and others would oppose the bill.
That’s what’s motivating supporters to act quickly to get commitments from legislative leaders to back it before opponents can convince them.
“The right to defend oneself in Georgia does not come from a piece of government paper. Our right to self defense is God-given,” said D.R. Leonard, political director for Georgia Gun Owners.
Spencer is picking up the mantel of two of the legislators who have sponsored bills in recent years relaxing gun-control laws. Each just took appointments in the Deal administration and left the General Assembly. Spencer may not have the same luck as ed-Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, and ex-Rep. Tim Bearden, R-Villa Rica, because he doesn’t have their seniority in the legislature nor their leadership sway since both were committee chairmen.
Spencer was elected last year and quickly found out how little influence a freshman has when he was drawn into the same district with veteran Rep. Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross.