Georgia’s new gun law: Big deal or not?

Today, our guest columnists examine Georgia’s new expanded gun law from both sides of the issue. One promises a push to convince bars and restaurants to prohibit guns; the other defends citizens’ right to arm themselves in more public places. In our third column, the chief judge of the Fulton County Superior Court responds to a recent column that looked at how the city of Atlanta is dealing with its repeat offender problem — and laid some of the blame on Fulton courts.

Guns: Big deal in a bad way

By Piyali Cole

“They’re basically crying Chicken Little over something that’s not that big a deal,” said John Monroe, a lawyer for the gun rights organization GeorgiaCarry.org. He was speaking in response to those concerned about the “Guns Everywhere” bill (House Bill 60), which took effect July 1.

The “they” he referred to are moms, municipal leaders, clergy leaders, school administrators, bar owners, airport security officials and most significantly, law enforcement officers worried about being able to do their jobs. In fact, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, “they” are the majority of Georgians, who are opposed to this new law.

But instead of upholding the will of the people, our elected officials bowed to the gun lobby. Pushing this law through despite overwhelming voter opposition was an interesting move, especially in an election year.

So, let’s examine why this is a big deal.

Firearms are the second-leading cause of death of children and teens in America (and the No. 1 cause among black children and teens). In Georgia, more than 70 percent of domestic violence is committed with a firearm, and our state’s domestic violence rate is consistently higher than the national average. These statistics were a reality for Georgians before HB 60 was put into law.

After the passage of this comprehensive bill, Georgia bar owners and patrons are faced with a new reality. Gun owners carrying loaded handguns or long guns (including those we think of as assault weapons) are now free to come into bars and consume alcohol. The U.S. Department of Justice found that approximately 40 percent of those convicted of homicide had been drinking at the time of their offense. In March, a gun battle took place outside a bar in Marietta, leaving one man wounded. This is only one of many such stories. Now we can look forward to having these battles inside the bar.

We are continually told by the gun lobby that licensed gun owners are never the cause of shootings. Don’t tell that to the family of Griffin police Officer Kevin Jordan, who was shot five times in the back, allegedly by a drunken concealed-carry permit holder while Jordan was trying to make an arrest at a Waffle House. The accused shooter’s aunt stated that she “never thought he was capable of shooting anyone.” The bottom line: Guns and alcohol don’t mix, and moms have confidence Georgia bar and restaurant owners agree.

While the gun lobby may have won the legislative battle, Georgia businesses, schools, places of worship and other community organizations can fight back by prohibiting guns on their properties, and members of the Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America are on a mission to ensure they know this. All summer, we will be canvassing our communities, educating bars and restaurants that serve alcohol about their rights, and providing them with the necessary signage to prohibit guns in their establishments.

We will also be signing up Georgians to go to the polls in November as a part of our Gun Sense Voter campaign. Gun sense is the simple idea that we can do much more to keep our families and communities safe from gun violence. We want leaders who will vote for common-sense gun laws that protect our children. And if our leaders don’t vote to protect them, we’ll find new ones to replace them.

The legislative battle was lost, but the war has only just begun. It must be fought because it is a big deal. It is important to Americans and Georgians, and especially to moms. If our elected officials will not ensure the safety of our children and families in public places, moms will. It is because of our voices that major organizations like Target, Chipotle, Facebook and Instagram have changed their firearms policies.

Our voices matter; we must use them. We welcome all the citizens of Georgia to join us in this effort. For more information, go to www.momsdemandaction.org/join-us.

Piyali Cole is Georgia Chapter leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Gun critics appeal to emotions, not facts

By John Monroe

House Bill 60 decriminalized carrying guns in bars for people with Georgia weapons carry licenses. This single new location where licensees may carry guns somehow translates for extremists as “guns everywhere.” If they were the least bit concerned with accuracy, they would have called HB 60 the “Guns One More Place Bill.” Of course, that’s not so catchy. So they also come up with neat tag lines like, “Guns and alcohol don’t mix,” and, “We’re going back to the Wild West.”

What gun extremists don’t communicate are facts.

Fact 1: Bars in Georgia are rare. Most of the places people may think of as bars are in fact classified in Georgia as restaurants that serve alcohol. Places like Chili’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Taco Mac and other similar chains are all restaurants.

Fact 2: If a place is open on Sundays, it’s not a bar. Bars are not allowed to be open on Sundays.

Fact 3: Licensees have been allowed to carry guns in restaurants that serve alcohol since 2008. Oops. That means guns and alcohol have been mixing for several years without significant incident.

Fact 4: Licensees have been able to drink alcohol while carrying guns in restaurants that serve alcohol since 2010. Double oops. We have not gone back to the Wild West in those four years. In fact, pretty much nothing has happened, notwithstanding Chicken Little predictions from the gun extremists.

Fact 5: Everyone, not just licensees, has been able to carry short-barreled rifles, long-barreled handguns, and small-caliber firearms of all configurations into bars since 2010. Triple oops. People have been carrying guns in bars for four years, and there has not been a rash of shootings at bars.

Fact 6: What gun extremists like to call “assault weapons,” because that sounds especially scary but doesn’t really mean anything, commonly includes sporting rifles like the AR 15 configured with a short barrel. A license has never been needed to carry a rifle in public in Georgia, and short-barreled rifles have been unrestricted for carry anywhere since 2010. Are the statistics blowing the roof off, with blood in the streets from rifle deaths in Georgia? Nope. Deer and other game animals continue to be vulnerable to assault weapon attacks. Humans, not so much.

The bottom line is that facts do not favor the gun extremists, so they are forced to appeal to emotion to sell their message. They frequently worry about “the children,” but that particular appeal is dubious in the context of bars. Why would the extremists be taking their children to bars in the first place? (Hint: They shouldn’t be.)

Unable to sell their message with children in bars, extremists resort to anecdotes about anything that happened anywhere near a bar or something bar-like that involved a gun. A licensee who was reportedly drunk allegedly shot and killed an off-duty police officer outside a Waffle House near Griffin. That incident has nothing to do with bars, but a gun and alcohol were in the same story, so we should continue to ban guns in bars, or so the extremist message goes.

Until extremists can sell a message with cogent facts instead of random, disjointed stories designed to appeal to emotion rather than reason, they will continue to fail to appeal to the masses with their message. The large majority of Georgians cherish their rights to keep and bear arms “in case of confrontation” as the Supreme Court declared they have a constitutional right to do, and they will continue to do so.

John Monroe is vice president of GeorgiaCarry.org.

Prison is not the only answer

By Gail S. Tusan

The recent op-ed titled “Serial criminals on the loose” (Opinion, June 27) requires a fact-based response. Violent criminals are serving lengthy prison sentences that fit their crimes. We know that while recidivism is a growing epidemic nationwide, crime in Atlanta has been significantly reduced in recent years. Yet unfortunately, some have accused Fulton County judges of abetting repeat offenders. This claim is not true.

Curbing recidivism requires more than merely identifying and incarcerating defendants for long stretches. That strategy has been flatly rejected by the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, a statewide bipartisan group of elected officials, policymakers and citizens. The problem is far more complex than a list of repeat offenders provided by the city of Atlanta.

Unless we collectively address the systemic barriers of insufficient job skills and education, homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse, and adequately fund and increase the availability of effective programs focusing on these issues, individuals with addictions, mental illness and other deficits will continue to commit crime.

In large measure, repeat offenders are drug users committing crimes against property. While some advocate that persons with multiple arrests  should be routinely denied bond and probation, as constitutional judicial officers, we execute our responsibilities thoughtfully and deliberately in accordance with the law. Each case must be decided based on its own facts.

Doing away with probation is not the answer. We are working to ensure that any defendant given a probated sentence in Fulton County will be supervised properly, and that tougher sanctions will be imposed when probation conditions are violated.

Since serving time does not assure that nonviolent offenders will be rehabilitated or redirected, given the considerable cost of prison, taxpayers’ money could be better spent in funding accountability courts, treatment programs and re-entry initiatives that provide defendants the treatment and life skills they need.

The Atlanta police chief’s proposed “lock ’em up and throw away the key” fixes run afoul of the clear findings and recommendations of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform and initiatives passed by the Georgia General Assembly. The Atlanta Judicial Circuit is on the right track with accountability courts and other alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders.

Any expectation for an immediate local fix for resolving this nationwide challenge is short-sighted. Citizens should know the judges and stakeholders of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit are committed to helping engineer comprehensive solutions that will help protect citizens and enhance the quality of life for the community we proudly serve.

Gail S. Tusan is chief judge of Fulton County Superior Court, Atlanta Judicial Circuit.


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