If you have been reading the news about Georgia’s new gun bill that goes into effect on July 1, you may have come across the claim that HB 60 benefits convicted felons. Have you wondered what this means, and why it is relevant?
The claim being made is that HB 60 permits convicted felons who are involved in a self defense shooting to claim the benefits of Georgia’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” law. This is the law that states a person using or threatening to use necessary deadly force to defend her life does not have to prove first that she could have safely retreated. In addition, Georgia law provides an immunity hearing in the early stages of prosecution during which a person charged with unlawfully using or threatening deadly force may raise the issue of self defense before trial.
First, a word about current law.
Under current Georgia law, a person who is carrying a firearm unlawfully is not entitled to the immunity hearing at an early stage of prosecution. What this means is that a person who uses a gun to stop a mass murderer prior to July 1, 2014 in a government building or a church would not be entitled to the immunity hearing because it is unlawful to carry a weapon in those two locations. In addition, a convicted felon who stops a mass murderer in any location, even on a public street, would not be entitled to the immunity hearing because a convicted felon is carrying unlawfully no matter where she is carrying a weapon.
What HB 60 changes.
Effective July 1, 2014, only machine guns and short barreled rifles and shotguns being carried unlawfully will deprive the accused of the benefit of an immunity hearing. What this means is that for the holder of a Georgia Weapons license, stopping a mass murderer in an off limits location, such as inside a church that does not permit the carrying of weapons, will not deprive him of the immunity hearing.
This also means, however, that a convicted felon who defends herself can ask for and receive an immunity hearing.
Convicted felons have always been able to raise the defense of “self defense,” and, just like everybody else, they have been able to do so in a lethal force situation without having to prove that they should have or could have retreated before using or threatening to use lethal force in necessary self defense. That has always been the law in Georgia, and HB 60 does not change it.
Those who advocate that this should not be the law should ask themselves whether home maven Martha Stewart, a convicted felon, should have to submit to rape, robbery, or murder without being able to defend herself. If she, for example, stabs her would-be rapist with a Williams Sonoma double bladed grapefruit knife, should she not be entitled to all of the same protections under Georgia law afforded to anybody else who uses lethal force in self defense?
The self defense immunity hearing, closed under current law to convicted felons like Martha Stewart, would indeed be available to them after July 1, just as it will be available to license holders who exercise self defense in an off limits location. Accordingly, there is some limited truth to the otherwise dubious claim that HB 60 “benefits” convicted felons.
One thing HB 60 does not do, however, is change the existing felon in possession law. Although anti-liberty groups who have been campaigning against HB 60 have been proclaiming loudly that HB 60 will permit convicted felons to carry guns, and the news media have been all too eager to repeat it, there is absolutely nothing in HB 60 that would make a felon immune to the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Even in a clear cut case of self defense, a felon who threatens to use a gun is likely to be charged with and convicted of unlawfully possessing a firearm. This charge is a felony and carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, so the claim that HB 60 permits felons to carry firearms is yet one more unfaithful statement being propounded by those who do not let truth stand in the way of their attempts to strip you of your civil liberties.