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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has vowed to support legislation that would remove some of the requirements currently in place for carrying guns in the state.
He equated the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to a "carry permit" and has made loosening gun laws a key priority for his 2022 legislative agenda.
More on constitutional carry debate: A look at gun law changes being considered across the U.S.
"In the face of rising crime across the country, law-abiding citizens should have their constitutional rights protected — not undermined," Kemp said.
The governor's embrace of what is commonly known as "constitutional carry" has sparked both praise and criticism. To understand the debate, it's important to grasp the nuances of the issue.
Constitutional carry means state law doesn't prevent citizens who can legally possess a firearm from carrying handguns, openly or concealed, with no state permit. Currently, Georgia requires a background check before giving someone a carry permit.
Currently, 21 states, including neighboring Tennessee, allow constitutional carry.
Kemp has yet to outline the details of what he will support in terms of law changes, only noting it would be designed to “give people their constitutional right to carry without a piece of paper from the government.”
A constitutional carry measure, HB 2, has been introduced in the Georgia General Assembly. The Georgia Constitutional Carry Act of 2021 was filed last year but did not advance. But because Georgia's Legislature operates on a two-year cycle, the legislation can be considered this session.
Or the bill could come in the form of new legislation, but as of yet, nothing has been filed.
Related reporting: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announces push to loosen handgun rules
House 161 Rep. Bill Hitchens, a former state patrolman who describes himself as being pro-gun, says he supports constitutional carry, but how it will be codified will determine whether he supports it here.
"I can go along with a lot of constitution carry, even be proactive for some of it," He siad. I just don't want to do anything or vote for anything that I think is gonna cause danger to the public."
He says he'd still like to see background checks, which is similar to the system Georgia already has in place. He noted that throughout his law enforcement career, he's seen the worst side of guns plenty of times.
A common argument in favor of constitutional carry is that the "bad guys with guns" are already doing it anyway. Hitchens says that argument is a double-edged sword, because should Georgia pass constitutional carry, those "bad guys" will enjoy the right to carry a weapon without a carry permit as well.
"The ones that favor this say, 'Well the bad guys, the criminals, and the people that you don't want to have it are going to have it anyway," Hitchens said. "And that's the truth, but we don't need to legitimize it."
What would constitutional carry mean in Georgia?
Owning a gun and carrying it in public are two different things in Georgia, and understanding the difference is a big part of understanding what Kemp is asking for, said Mark Roark, a Southern Louisiana Law Center endowed professor of law.
Every state has licensing requirements, he notes. Those include prohibiting felons from owning or carry a fun or having a license, age limits and where guns can and cannot be carried, such as government buildings or college campuses.
Currently, Georgians must meet the following requirement to get a Weapons Carry License. A person must be age 18 to own a gun but 21 to apply for a carry license. The only exceptions are those who are service members and have completed basic training. They must provide proof that they are on active duty or have been honorably discharged.
Weapons Carry License applicants must be citizens of both Georgia and the United States and have no felony convictions or pending criminal proceedings, no drug convictions including misdemeanor possession charges, and no prior convictions for carrying a concealed weapon without a license or domestic abuse.
Additionally, if a person has been committed to a mental hospital against his or her will, or received drug or alcohol treatment in the last five years, he or she cannot apply.
Gun legislation is a rare exception to the anti-big government mindset of the Republican party. Regardless of the exact form the legislation on constitutional carry takes in Georgia, passage would require the state to give up the power to regulate guns.
“When we look at the grand tradition of federalism in the U.S., it has always represented this tension between states and the federal government…. And gun rights have traditionally fallen under states, and their ability to regulate in these areas with certain limits imposed by the federal government, by the federal constitution, in the Second Amendment,” Roark said. “What we are seeing in the constitutional carry push, is states simply saying ‘We are choosing not to regulate in this area, and we are going to defer to the federal government.’”
For Kemp, a political calculation in an election year
For Kemp, his announcement comes a few weeks after his opponent in the Republican primary, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, announced he would champion constitutional carry if he were elected.
Kemp mentioned constitutional carry again on Jan. 13 during his annual State of the State address before the Georgia Legislature.
Gun rights is an issue lawmakers haven't touched since 2014, when then-Gov. Nathan Deal’s signed a bill that allowed Georgians to carry guns in bars, churches, government buildings and schools.
A number of Democrats have come out in opposition to constitutional carry, including Lauren Groh-Wargo, the campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams.
“The same guy who pointed a gun at a teenager on TV now panders with reckless proposals threatening Georgia lives,” Groh-Wargo said in a tweet, referencing an infamous Kamp campaign ad from the 2018 race.
Kemp argues that the measure is intended to increase safety.
“To build a safer, stronger Georgia, we must ensure every Georgian feels safe and secure in their communities,” Kemp said. “As I announced last week, I believe that starts with fully recognizing the constitutional rights granted to law-abiding Georgians in our founding documents, and I look forward to supporting constitutional carry legislation this session.”
Will Peebles is the enterprise reporter for Savannah Morning News. He can be reached at email@example.com and @willpeeblessmn on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp touts constitutional carry as 2022 priority