Georgia group takes local bans down

ATLANTA --- What began a few years ago as an online forum for gun-rights advocates has exploded into the leading group for expanding Georgia's gun laws.

Since its incorporation in 2006, Georgia Carry has fired off a steady stream of lawsuits against local gun bans by leaning on a state law that bars any entity but the General Assembly from regulating the carrying and possession of firearms.

Georgia Carry appears to be winning the fight against Georgia's restrictions, which it calls the most stringent in the country, according to John Monroe, the group's vice president and attorney.

Restrictions on where permitted gun owners can carry weapons in public seem to be on the wane, especially since Gov. Sonny Perdue signed legislation in May allowing the state's estimated 300,000 concealed-weapons permit holders to carry in public transit, state parks and restaurants that serve alcohol.

"If our recent experience is any indicator, I think they are leaning to being more favorable to people who have an interest in carrying firearms to protect themselves," Mr. Monroe said.

The group has beat back several bans on weapons in parks, including those in Coweta, Forsyth, Fulton and Athens-Clarke counties, and is suing Atlanta after officials for the city and city-owned Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport threatened to arrest anyone who carries a gun on airport property.

Gun-control advocates question the need to loosen restrictions without strengthening the vetting process for permits.

"We don't see any common sense rationale for their positions, given that there are so few requirements, so few responsibilities that concealed-weapon carry permit holders have in Georgia," said Alice Johnson, the executive director of Georgians for Gun Safety.

The permits are granted by probate courts without knowledge or input from local law enforcement.

Ms. Johnson said her group wants law enforcement to have a say in the process, which would allow officers to raise a red flag if they know the applicant has shown a propensity for violence but hasn't committed a crime that would halt the permit process.

"If you have no significant criminal history and you have $50 dollars, you can get a permit," Ms. Johnson said.

She said applicants should also have to receive training and show proficiency with the weapon, as several states in the Southeast require.

Also, the lack of a statewide database on who has a concealed-carry permit prevents tracking permit holders who might or have posed a danger, she said.

"The idea that none of them have anger-management issues, that none of them periodically get drunk or get high or have some emotional issue -- I think that is a pretty wild claim that none of those 300,000 have been in that situation," Ms. Johnson said.

Permit holders aren't the "gun nuts" gun-control groups often make them out to be, said Kevin Lamons, a 35-year-old Athens resident and permit holder.

Mr. Lamons said he trains with his weapon, took firearms classes and has passed the same firearm proficiency tests law enforcement officers are required to take.

Though the ban on guns in parks has been repealed, Mr. Lamons said he has yet to carry his weapon into one.

"It's not about wanting to carry a gun in a park. I don't think parks are necessarily less safe than anywhere else in the community," he said. "We have a right to carry a gun."

GEORGIA CARRY is poised for another victory Aug. 5, when the Athens-Clarke County Commission will consider removing language in an ordinance that gives the county manager the authority to close guns shops in the event of an emergency.

The change is the result of a lawsuit Georgia Carry won in February against the county's gun ban in parks, Mr. Monroe said.

For Athens-Clarke County's gun prohibition, the writing was on the wall after Georgia Carry's victory in the state Court of Appeals in December forced the repeal of a gun ban in Coweta County, according to Athens-Clarke County attorney Bill Berryman.

The court ruled that state law pre-empts local jurisdictions from enacting ordinances on how firearms are carried.

"Once that came out, we didn't feel like we had any alternative," Mr. Berryman said.

Reach Jake Armstrong at (404) 589-8424 or jake.armstrong@morris.com.

WEAPONS PERMITS

Georgia has an estimated 300,000 holders of concealed-carry permits, which are good for five years. The number issued or renewed by local probate courts in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2007:

COURT - PERMITS

Burke 180

Columbia - 760

McDuffie - 125

Richmond - 1,034

Statewide - 56,833

Source: Administrative Office of the Courts