House Bill 512 was passed by a 117-56 vote on “crossover day,” the 30th day of the Georgia Legislature when bills must have cleared one chamber of the General Assembly to complete the process to become a law this session.
District 69 Rep. Dustin Hightower, R-Carrollton; District 18 Rep. Kevin Cooke, R-Carrollton; and District 69 Rep. Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, all voted in favor of the bill.
The bill would also permit school districts to arm school administrators, and a lesser known provision would change the rules on whether people who have recently suffered from mental illness or substance abuse can get a carry permit.
“I did support House Bill 512, spoke to it on the floor of the House and believe it will pass the Senate and become law,” Cooke said Friday. “It’s a great first step toward restoring our Second Amendment freedom. It makes a number of advances with regard to the Second Amendment freedoms of law-abiding Georgians."
If passed, this bill will allow local churches to decide whether or not guns can be carried rather than the state government dictating policy. It will remove most restrictions on carry and conceal permit holders on all college campuses, while private college campuses will be allowed to set their own policy. This distinction is made because privates schools have private property rights to make these decisions.
One other major change will remove the distinction of gun-free zones in public buildings without guarded entrances.
"This bill will ultimately allow individuals to exercise their natural and constitutional right to carry," Cooke said. "If this bill passes, we’ll empower carry and conceal permit holders to protect themselves against individuals and governments.”
“House Bill 512 is one of the strongest Second Amendment, pro-gun bills that has passed the House in several years,” Hightower said. “HB 512 allows for campus carry, church carry and carrying within certain government buildings. Our Founding Fathers viewed the right to bear arms as a God-given right, and I will fight to protect the Second Amendment with every part of my being. As a strong outspoken supporter of our constitutional right to bear arms, I support legislation that goes to re-establish our right to bear arms.
“When we restrict law abiding citizens from carrying a firearm, we’re putting them at a great disadvantage when it comes to protecting themselves against those whom don’t respect the law or the lives of others,” he said. “The reading of the Second Amendment has always been simple for me, ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.’ When these cowardly, heartless and misguided individuals commit these massacres on school campuses, they’re picking these locations for a reason, and that reason is, they know we have disarmed our law-abiding citizens and therefore there’s no one to point a gun back in their face.”
“House Bill 512 was a composite of several other related bills and I voted for it because I believe it proposed some reasonable measures relating to Second Amendment rights,” Nix said. “The committee heard many hours of testimony, both pro and con, and went through numerous revisions to get the best bill possible that could pass the House. Since the Senate has some competing measures, I do anticipate the bill going through additional changes as it works its way through their committee process. I do believe this bill will be the basis for significant gun legislation which will become law this year.”
The role of probate judges in making decisions on gun carry permits would be strengthened under this bill.
Probate Court judges already have discretion over whether to give a carry permit to a person who has been hospitalized as an inpatient at a mental hospital or an alcohol or drug treatment center within the past five years. Judges can require the applicants to sign waivers allowing treatment facilities to disclose whether the applicants have been hospitalized and allowing mental health providers to give their recommendations to the judge.
The new bill would apply similar restrictions only to people who receive involuntary treatment, not to those who voluntarily request help.
“This bill strengthens and clarifies the mental health inquiry process for those seeking a Georgia firearms license because it is targeted at the dangerous, not a person who recognizes they have an issue and voluntarily submits to treatment,” Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, the bill sponsor, said in a released statement. “Simply being hospitalized doesn’t make a person a criminal or a threat.”
James Camp of Temple, a founder of GeorgiaCarry.org, the gun rights organization that has lobbied intensely for the legislation, said his group is happy with the majority of the provisions in House Bill 512.
“It does go to great lengths to restore Second Amendment rights, especially to people who have carry rights and would be able to carry weapons more places, especially college campuses,” Camp said. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
However, Camp said he does has an issue with an amendment added by the Rules Committee that allows a law enforcement officer, who feels someone poses a threat, can submit the person’s name to the national instant criminal check system and stop them from buying a weapon or getting a carry permit.
“It disqualifies them, just on somebody’s word,” he said. “It denies them due process since there’s no court or judge to look at the facts. GeorgiaCarry will try to get that amendment removed from the Senate bill.”
Tom Mackel, University of West Georgia police chief, said both college police chiefs and the state Board of Regents have expressed concern over the changes that House Bill 512 would bring to college campuses.
“We’re pleased with the way the law is now,” Mackel said, adding that he feels that drinking, mental health and other issues would make it dangerous to allow gun carrying on campus.
The state Senate passed its own gun legislation, Senate Bill 101, by a 41-10 vote. The Senate bill would allow people who have carry permits from other states to have those permits honored in Georgia. The bill would also bar public housing authorities from prohibiting the lawful possession of firearms as a condition of residency. The bill also allows people between the ages of 18 and 21, who have military training, to obtain carry permits, as long as they were not dishonorably discharged. The bill would bar the state from maintaining a database of weapons permit holders and would allow a judge to rule on the validity of a permit, but provide no other information.
— The Associated Press contributed to this article.