Georgia or California: Which place has more off limits locations to bearing, i.e., actually carrying, a firearm? California is a "may issue" state, meaning that the issuing official has discretion to deny a license to a qualified applicant, but California has has more than 50,000 people with firearms licenses. Those licenses are effective throughout the state, regardless of which county in California issues them.
If you are one of the more than 50,000 people who have a firearms license in California, are you better off than a Georgian? Most people assume California is highly restrictive of the right to bear arms and that Georgia is a “gun friendly state.” Are these twin assumptions justified?
I first examined this issue back in 2009, when Georgia still had a "public gathering" law, and that column came to the conclusion that Georgia had more places off limits to carrying a firearm than California. Since that article, there has been a repeal of Georgia's public gathering law and several other changes to Georgia's firearms laws. Between 2009 and 2013, has this situation changed? Does Georgia still have more places off limits to bearing arms than California?
Let us examine California’s places off limits list in detail and compare it to Georgia’s list.
California Law - Public Buildings and Meetings Legal
California Penal Code Section 171b bans the carry of firearms to public meetings and public buildings, but it exempts “[a] person holding a valid license to carry the firearm pursuant to Article 3 (commencing with Section 12050) of Chapter 1 of Title 2 of Part 4.” See 171b(b)(3). Therefore, this law does not apply to a person holding a firearms license at all, meaning it is legal to carry a firearm to a “public meeting” in California.
Georgia Law - Crime!
This is a crime in Georgia. See O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127, Georgia law pertaining to carrying weapons in unauthorized locations, which places all government buildings off limits if they house a government entity or if a government entity meets there in its official capacity.
California Law - State Capitol Legal
California Penal Section 171c makes it a crime to carry a firearm into the State Capitol Building in Sacramento (along with committee meeting rooms, legislative offices, and the Governor’s office), but, again, excepts a “person holding a valid license to carry the firearm pursuant to Article 3 (commencing with Section 12050) of Chapter 1 of Title 2 of Part 4.” In other words, again, this is no crime in California if you hold a firearms license.
Georgia Law - Crime!
Carrying a firearm into the State Capitol Building in Atlanta is a crime two different ways in Georgia. See O.C.G.A. §§ 16-11-127 and 16-11-34.1.
California - Schools Legal
Well, surely California places its schools off limits, right? Wrong. Not only are license holders not committing a crime by carrying at colleges and universities, but California follows the example of the federal Gun Free School Zones Act and completely exempts people holding a firearms license, even for carrying to public kindergarten through 12th grade schools.
Ironically, it is illegal to have ammunition on school grounds in California, unless, of course, you have a firearms license. Penal Code 12316(c).
In California, Penal Code Section 626.9, the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1995, makes it illegal to carry a firearm at a school and lists out all of the terrible penalties associated with the crime, but it also lists exemptions, such as police officers, and, there it is again, license holders. See 626.9(l). Just to make it clear, California is talking about public or private k-12. See 626.9(e)(1). It is also talking about Universities. 626.9(h) and (i).
Georgia Law - Crime!
Georgia makes this a crime, and Georgia does not limit this to public schools or even elementary and secondary schools. In Georgia, it is a crime even for 60 year old graduate students, even with a firearms license, with the only exception being a firearm in a car in the parking lot. Georgia’s law even applies to adult technical and vocational schools. If you want to take a welding class (to develop the skills needed in restoring your 1966 GTO), you would be completely disarmed while on campus.
The same applies to visitors at schools in Georgia.
Places of Worship
It is imperative to point out that Georgia has other restrictions California has never seen fit to adopt. For example, Georgia makes it a crime to bear arms at places of worship. See O.C.G.A. 16-11-127. When Arkansas changed its law on church carry last month, Georgia was left as one of only three states in the nation that categorically bars firearms from churches. California does not criminalize carry at its places of worship and has no statute even addressing the issue.
In sum, California, the state assumed to restrict and burden the right to bear arms, permits the bearing of arms in churches, bars, elementary schools, colleges, the State Capitol Building, town hall, police stations, and library departments. Georgia, the state assumed to permit the free exercise of the right to bear arms, criminalizes the bearing of arms in all of these locations and more, even if the person bearing a pistol has a Georgia weapons carry license issued pursuant to Georgia law.
Hopefully, this short article has challenged your assumptions regarding the right to bear arms in Georgia and in California. In addition, by providing references to the actual Code Sections, it is hoped that this article will provide you with some of the intellectual ammunition you need to return Georgia’s right to bear arms to an actual “right,” rather than an overburdened “privilege.”