Posted: Monday, August 6th 2012 at 9:15am
North Georgians, officials discuss Georgia concealed carry laws
By Rob Moore Editor
Following is the first of two parts on north Georgian’s views and the law on concealed firearms carry in the state. This first installment discusses the permitting process, where a gun can and can’t be carried, and carrying a gun outside Georgia.
UNDATED – Two weeks after the America’s largest mass shooting, at a theater in Aurora, Colo., people in north Georgia continue to discuss citizens’ Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
“My Second Amendment right to hold and bear arms is also the right for me to protect myself and my loved ones against a criminal,” said Misty Loggins, a Habersham County native who is a singer/songwriter living in Nashville, Tenn. “It’s a right that we’ve been fighting for and defending since 1791, and I think it’s very important as a U.S. citizen to be able to have the right to choose to own a gun. It’s extremely important, and it’s something my family has exercised and taught me to respect since I was a child.”
Loggins comes from a family that enjoys hunting, but she prefers shooting at a range for recreation.
“My dad took me to the probate office as soon as I was old enough and got me my first gun permit, and I’ve had one ever since,” Loggins said. “It’s something I strongly believe in.”
But Habersham County resident Jennifer Ward disagrees, especially when it comes to semi-automatic and automatic firearms.
“It’s my opinion that as long as there is a machine capable of killing many, many people in a matter of seconds, we’re all screwed,” Ward said. “I shouldn’t have to buy a gun, get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and be fully armed at all times just to survive and defend myself against a billion other people doing the same thing.”
The Georgia permitting process
White County Probate Judge Garrison Baker, whose office is among those in the state that issue concealed carry permits for firearms, explains the procedure for permit issuance.
“The requirements for a gun permit are you have to be a Georgia resident and you’ve got to apply in your county of residence,” Baker said. “You’ve got to be over the age of 21, and you can’t have any federal or state prohibitors that would keep you from applying or having a license to carry a gun, what they call a pistol toter’s permit.”
“Those federal prohibitors, generally speaking, would be you can’t be a convicted felon unless you’ve had your rights restored; you can’t be in any court order, temporary restraining order or temporary protective order during that process until those things are clear,” Baker said. “If you’ve had a crime involving domestic violence, that in itself would be a prohibitor from obtaining a Georgia permit.”
Baker clarified one part of the issue.
“Convicted felons are not allowed to have firearms in their homes,” Baker said. “We’re talking primarily about having a permit to carry it. There are a lot of people who it’s legal for them to have a firearm in their home, their place of business if they own it, or their automobile, but they can’t get a permit because of certain prohibitions.”
The new process involves fingerprint scanning rather than the traditional inkpad system previously used in many rural counties.
Unlike states such as Tennessee, obtaining a concealed carry can’t be done at a one-stop place in Georgia.
“They come into our [probate] office, they fill out the application, they answer the questions and if they don’t have any prohibitors to keep them from getting one, then they go to the sheriff’s office here in White County where they’re fingerprinted,” Baker said.
After the fingerprint analysis and other checks, the permit is issued.
“It usually takes eight to 10 days, maybe two weeks” for the process, Baker said.
Concealed carry permits in Georgia are good for five years.
Speaking as a former Tennessee resident, Chris Banks of Cumming said he favors Tennessee’s system of issuing firearms permits.
“The biggest advantage of that is the Tennesee website … and that it’s all in one place,” he said. “You go to where you get your driver’s license up there.”
One thing about Tennessee carry laws, however, is that “you can’t transport it in your vehicle if you don’t have a license unless it’s separated,” Banks said. “Basically, you have to take the clip and ammunition out and put it in the trunk, and put the weapon in the glove box. You can’t have them together unless you have a license.”
Where can you carry?
In Georgia, it sometimes can be difficult knowing where it’s legal to carry a concealed weapon.
Baker and Habersham County Probate Judge Pam Wooley said they are discouraged from providing information about where it is legal to carry a concealed weapon in the state because that could be construed as them giving legal advice.
While he understands the probate judges are following legal advice, Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell said he doesn’t understand why judges in the state simply can’t cite the law.
Mountain Judicial Circuit Chief Assistant District Attorney Eddie Staples took a few moments to discuss Georgia’s concealed carry laws.
“Sometimes it’s hard to figure out exactly what the conditions are for where you can and can’t carry,” Staples said. “It’s something that could easily be addressed by the legislature to just make it a specific list of places you can and cannot carry.”
Staples said he believes the Georgia General Assembly (legislature) needs to provide a clarification so Georgians know where they can and can’t carry.
“I think it would be useful because obviously we have people that ask us those kind of questions on a regular basis and, to be honest, generally if it comes up in a case I have to look it up and see whether the restrictions on carry apply in a particular case or not because it’s not easy even for somebody that deals with this kind of thing all the time to keep this right and fresh in your mind: ‘Where can I carry? Where can’t I carry? How could I carry it in this place that I might not be able to carry it in that place?’ Those sorts of things,” Staples said.
Staples said business owners can set their own policies about whether they allow firearms, concealed or open carry, on their property.
In general, when Georgians go to the store or a restaurant, permit holders are allowed to carry their weapons.
“Usually, you are permitted because it’s a constitutional right to keep and bear arms,” Staples said. “The general rule is you can carry and, essentially, the government has to establish a regulation that says you cannot carry in a particular place. Now a property owner can make his own policy – that doesn’t make it a crime to carry there, but if they give adequate notice, then if you carry in violation of their policy then you may be committing the crime of trespass. Ordinarily, it would just be something where they can tell you ‘if you’re going to carry a gun then you cannot be on my property.’”
Under OCGA 16-11-126 g, licensed persons can carry concealed or open anywhere in the state not prohibited by federal law, including: parks and buildings in parks; recreational areas and buildings; historical sites and buildings; and public transportation.
Wooley pointed out that by law, guns cannot be carried:
• In bars, which are defined as an establishment that is devoted to the serving of alcoholic beverages for consumption by guests on the premises, and in which the serving of food is only incidental to the consumption of those beverages, including, but not limited to, taverns, nightclubs, cocktail lounges, and cabarets. The exception to this is if the owner of the bar permits the carrying of weapons or long guns by license holders;
• In courthouses;
• In government buildings, including those leased or rented to house government functions. A government entity is defined as “an office, agency, authority, department, commission, board, body, division, instrumentality, or institution of the state or any county, municipal corporation, consolidated government, or local board of education within Georgia.”
• In jails and prisons;
• In places of worship;
• In state mental health facilities;
• On the premises of a nuclear power facility;
• Within 150 feet of any polling place.
There are many misconceptions about the state’s concealed carry laws, including how a gun can be carried in a vehicle.
“It can be in a glove box, it can be in a console – it doesn’t have to be in plain view when you carry it in your vehicle, because your vehicle is considered basically an extension of your home,” Terrell said.
“If you carry it in your glove box and that’s where you keep your insurance card, you’re going to want to let somebody know, ‘hey look, there’s a firearm in my glove box and I’ve got to get my insurance card out,’” Terrell said. “Most of the time the officers are just going to tell you to leave it there, or sometimes they might ask you for it to check it. Don’t be offended when they do that. They’re going to do that because we run across a lot of stolen weapons, a lot of stolen guns, and that’s how you find them is you run them. You might have bought it from your best friend, but he might have got it from somebody he shouldn’t have gotten it from and it might be hot because there’s really no way to track.”
Staples said the laws are confusing to many people.
“You probably are better off to only carry where you’re certain that you are allowed to carry, at least if your main concern is to not get in trouble with the law,” Staples said.
Because of the confusion or at least lack of clarity on concealed carry, District 10 State Rep. Terry Rogers of Clarkesville, an avid proponent of the Second Amendment, said he will seek more accessible information flow from the state to residents who have questions about concealed carry.
“It would be my intention to get in touch with the attorney general’s office and see if they couldn’t make it more readily accessible to people on their website or through some other effort, where people can have their questions about where they can or can’t carry answered immediately,” Rogers said.
Carrying outside Georgia
Several states honor Georgia’s concealed carry laws. Those states include: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. South Carolina is not a reciprocal state.
Staples encourages Georgians to do their homework before taking a vacation or traveling outside Georgia with a weapon.
“I certainly would urge anybody that’s going to travel to check and make sure they know what the regulations are in the place they’re going, because that’s who will be prosecuting you if you’ve messed up on the regulations,” Staples said. “South Carolina is not a reciprocal state and that would be one where you need to be particularly careful.”
The second installment of this story will include interviews with north Georgia residents regarding selecting a safe firearm, getting training on your weapon, safe gun ownership, and more. In that portion, Loggins, Banks, and Ward share more of their views, and others weigh in on gun ownership and responsibility.
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