Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill allowing Georgia residents to carry handguns in public without a license or background check into law Tuesday.
The Georgia Senate passed the legislation on at the beginning of April, sending it to the governor’s desk for signature.
Kemp said the bill is a public safety measure.
"SB 319 makes sure that law-abiding Georgians — law-abiding Georgians, including out daughters and your family too — can protect themselves without having the permission of the state government. The constitution of the United States gives us that right, not the government," Kemp said Tuesday. "HB 218 ensures that individuals who are licensed to carry in another state are also authorized to do so here in Georgia."
The governor initially promised the measure when he first ran for governor in 2018, but little was done to advance it. It’s been revived now that Kemp faces opposition in this year’s primary from former U.S. Republican Sen. David Perdue and others. Longtime proponents of gun rights have credited Kemp’s advocacy for moving the issue forward.
Republican supporters say the measure is needed to allow people to more easily protect themselves following a rise in crime - arguing criminals may think twice since they don't know if their potential victim may be carrying.
"This isn't a bill that's going to create more crime. This is allowing law-abiding citizens to carry a weapon without a license in Georgia," state Sen. Jason Anavitarte said.
Democrats have pointed out that it does away with a background check that was triggered by the license application, and they say that will fuel shooting deaths.
"When you see that there are people on a regular basis because of flying bullets because of our lax laws … what you will discover is we have far more people, children and innocent bystanders killed than there is ever anyone saved," state Sen. Elena Parent said.
What are the current gun carry laws in Georgia?
Currently, Georgians must have a Weapons Carry License, or WCL, in order to carry a concealed weapon in public, although people can carry rifles and shotguns in many places without a permit and carry unloaded guns in cases. Residents have to apply for a WCL through their county's probate court.
Applicants must pass a criminal background check, pay an average fee of $75 and provide their fingerprints. Convicted felons and people who have been hospitalized for mental health problems or received treatment for drugs or alcohol in the years preceding the application are not eligible.
The bill would make it still be illegal for convicted felons to carry weapons. You still would need to have a background check to purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer in Georgia.