HB 512, the Safe Carry Protection Act of 2013, is by far the most ambitious bill of the legislative session. Due to the bill’s fifteen page length, today’s article will hit only the highlights from the bill. The most important provisions in HB 512 would remove some of the places off limits from the Georgia Code, such as places of worship and bars. It would partially remove others, such as government buildings that do not provide security guards and colleges outside of dormitories and sports venues.
HB 512 would also add honorably discharged veterans to the list of people exempt from various firearms laws. This list already includes law enforcement officers, persons in the military service of the state or United States, judges, prosecuting attorneys, court clerks, and coroners, among others. This provision would affect more than a quarter million Georgians and as many as twenty million Americans.
HB 512 removes the requirement of being fingerprinted at renewal time. Since the Georgia Bureau of Investigation just raised its price for processing fingerprints, this provision will save applicants for weapons carry licenses money at renewal time.
No loss of the NICS exemption is expected, as several states that are currently NICS exempt do not fingerprint at renewal time, such as Utah, and a few do not fingerprint applicants at all.
HB 512 broadens the state’s strong preemption language to include weapons other than firearms and include government agencies other than cities and counties. The bill also adds a private right of action to enforce preemption against recalcitrant governments, complete with a provision for attorney fees.
Places Off Limits
Georgia law has historically listed far too many locations as off limits to the carriage of weapons. Although earlier legislative action, mainly Rep. Bearden's HB 89 and Sen. Seabaugh's SB 308, removed some of the more egregious places that used to be off limits, such as the amorphous public gatherings law and restaurants that serve alcohol, the Georgia legislature chose to keep some of the locations from the old public gathering law, such as churches and government buildings off limits to firearms. This bill modifies the places off limits as follows.
Places of worship
HB 512 would decriminalize the carriage of weapons in places of worship, returning the choice of whether to allow weapons to the place of worship. With its current ban on carrying in places of worship, Georgia is one of only three states that categorically bans the carry of weapons in churches, following Arkansas changing its law this year. Removing places of worship from the places off limits list has been a priority for the advocacy group GeorgiaCarry.Org, which has pushed bills in previous sessions to remove this restriction without success and recently lost a challenge to the law in federal court based on claims that Georgia's law violated the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. Critics of the current law point out that churches cannot make up their own rules with respect to the possession of weapons. A repeal of this portion of the law, should this bill pass, would permit churches to control their own property and make their own decisions on this sensitive subject.
With respect to government buildings, HB 512 would decriminalize carry in government buildings, including courthouses, unless they “protected by a security guard during the hours it is open for business.” With respect to not noticing a security guard, a license holder “who exits such location upon his or her observation that such location has a security guard shall not be guilty of any offense other than trespass if he or she refuses to leave.” The bill states nothing about storage provisions, screening, or whether the guard is required to be armed, but the practical effect of this change would be to remove government buildings from the places off limits list if there is no security guard.
The changes to the school law in HB 512 would result in colleges not being off limits except for student housing and property used for competitive physical activity (basically dormitories and a stadium or gym). Elementary and secondary schools would remain mostly untouched by this bill. The change contemplated by the bill would, like the government buildings section above, leave Georgia law lagging behind California law, which does not bar license holders from carrying weapons in schools, including dormitories and any stadium, as well as K through 12. For an example closer to home, Alabama does not have a state law barring weapons from schools, either.
Five years ago, it was illegal to carry a weapon in any location that served alcohol for consumption on the premises. After a two year trial period in which the state permitted license holders to carry into restaurants that served alcohol but made it illegal to consume alcohol while in possession of a weapon, the General Assembly did away with the restriction altogether in 2010 with one exception. The 2010 law declared it illegal to carry into a bar, unless the owner of the bar permits the carry of weapons by license holders. This law has been criticized for two reasons. First, the definition of bar is unclear, including difficult things to identify like “taverns,” so it is difficult to tell whether one is in a bar. The language in the statute does not track the state’s licensing language for bars. Second, the blanket permission from the owner to weapons carry license holders would be unknown without interrogating the owner ahead of a visit to a location that one fears might be considered a bar under Georgia’s weapon law. HB 512 would repeal this portion of the law but would still permit owners to use criminal trespass law to eject license holders who are carrying weapons, just like any other private property owner.
HB 512 clarifies and reiterates the fact that the nonsterile portions of airports are not off limits, regardless of the presence of a security guard.
Will this bill succeed?
As to HB 512's chances of success, major portions of this bill are being backed by GeorgiaCarry.Org, a state level organization with a proven track record of success in the legislature on ambitious bills in the past. The bill’s introduction yesterday at the General Assembly was accompanied by a long list of co-sponsors, 45 at last count, with more continuing to sign on, and including at least seven committee chairs. In other words, the Safe Carry Protection Act of 2013 already appears to have drawn broad support from important members of the House of Representatives.
GeorgiaCarry.Org’s Executive Director, Jerry Henry, pointed out that the organization has been working with legislators for years on many of the issues addressed by the Safe Carry Protection Act of 2013. “A lot of work by a lot of people has been expended on this bill. I am optimistic that there is a good chance that most of the Safe Carry Protection Act will pass intact.”
The bill is being carried by Rick Jasperse, Republican from Jasper, Georgia, District 11. Due to its late introduction, it is looking like a committee hearing by Monday would be needed if HB 512 is to move in the House before crossover day, when bills that do not cross over from one chamber to the other are dead for the year.
HB 512 has received its second reading on the House floor and is currently assigned to the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. Chairman Alan Powell of that committee is the fifth sponsor to sign on to HB 512.
Today is part eight of a continuing series of articles describing bills pending in the General Assembly during the 2013-2014 legislative session affecting your right to bear arms. You can read parts one through seven here.