Last month the United States experienced a spike in gun related violence and mass shootings. During times like these, the public should be informed about local and federal laws, and how the two compare.
In situations involving firearms, it is most important to remain calm before reacting.
Georgia has some of the most lenient gun laws when it comes to the purchase, possession and carry of firearms.
In sharing these laws, we hope to provide Georgians with the knowledge necessary to do each of the following: Exercise their right to lawfully possess a firearm [if they so choose], remain calm in situations when gun-owners are abiding by the law, and to be able to identify when someone with a firearm is not abiding by the law.
Article I, Section I, Paragraph VIII of the State Constitutional Provision states, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but the General Assembly shall have power to prescribe the manner in which arms may be borne.”
Georgia’s provision upholds the Second Amendment of the U.S. constitution. The only distinction Georgia has is that its congress remains in charge of its execution.
Georgia does not require a permit for the purchase or possession of any shotgun, handgun or rifle. Additionally, according to Georgia Code 16-11-172(a), firearms distributors only require a background check for the purchase of a handgun. The idea behind this is that pistols are much more easily concealed, so Georgia requires a background check of essentially anyone thinking about concealed carry.
Pursuant to Georgia Code 16-11-132, it is unlawful to furnish a handgun to a person under 18 or for a person under 18 to possess a handgun. No one anyone under the age of 21 can purchase a handgun without certain criteria (i.e. being a member of the military). However, the same law does allow for a legal guardian to purchase and provide a handgun for someone between the ages of 18 and 21.
That minor must keep the handgun on private property and transport the firearm unloaded. They are permitted to possess the gun at a range or a hunting/safety class.
Lastly, we have Georgia Code 16-11-131: “It is unlawful for any person convicted of a felony to possess, receive, or transport any firearm.”
The two aforementioned regulations are specifically geared towards possession. Open carry and concealed carry laws also pertain to possession, but they’re better understood in context.
As the most nuanced portion of firearm ownership, it is first important to determine the instances when a weapon is considered “concealed.”
A firearm is considered concealed when it is hidden or not visible on either one’s person or in close proximity. This includes concealed holsters, backpacks and automobiles. With the correct permit, one can walk around with a concealed, loaded handgun.
Open carry is pretty self-explanatory: It is the practice of carrying a weapon in plain view of the casual observer or outsider—usually in a holster or sling.
Pursuant to Georgia Code 16-11-126(a), “any person who is not prohibited by law from possessing a handgun or long gun may have or carry on his or her person a weapon or long gun on his or her property or inside his or her home, motor vehicle , or place of business without a valid weapons carry license.”
Essentially, if you are eligible to own a firearm, you can transport that firearm (handgun or long gun) anywhere, assuming it is unloaded.
This is where the laws get a little tricky, though.
For long guns (rifles and shotguns), it is legal to open carry if you are not prohibited by law from possessing a firearm. It is legal to carry a loaded long gun without needing a valid Weapons Carry License (WCL), as long as the gun is fully exposed from concealment.
Laws pertaining to the carrying of long guns are pretty cut and dry.
The laws on carrying handguns, in any capacity, are more stringent. According to georgiapacking.org, “To carry a handgun openly or concealed in the state of Georgia (other than on your property or inside your home, car, or your place of business), you must have a Georgia Weapons Carry License or WCL (or the older Georgia Firearm License) issued under code 16-11-129.”
As long as one obtains the WCL, he or she may carry a loaded handgun anywhere that does not specifically prohibit guns. College classrooms and private businesses as well as state, local and federal Government buildings forbid the carrying of firearms.
The Georgia WCL is acquired by applying through one’s county probate court. The process requires applicants to give fingerprints and a background check, as well as a $75 fee. If the applicant is eligible, they will receive a WCL for a duration of five years.
Applicants must be 21 years old (military exceptions apply) and must not have a felony or be in current court proceedings involving a felony. Charges relating to the manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance also bar applicants. The same goes for those with a revoked WCL for improper carry.
If the applicant has been institutionalized in any mental hospital or substance abuse treatment center within five years preceding the application, they must fill out a waiver informing the deciding judge of his or her mental health history. In this situation, it is up to the judge to contact the facility and or doctors of the patient to determine if that person is fit to have a WCL.
We know what the Second Amendment entails, but very few know what other federal gun laws apply to everyday citizens. The federal government defers most of the power to the states for gun regulations, but there are some notable federal statutes to keep in mind.
Most federal laws apply to the sale, transportation and manufacture of firearms.
The National Firearms Act of 1934 taxes the manufacture and mandates the registration of Title II weapons, which include short-barreled long guns, silencers, automatic weapons and explosives. These are only available under the most extreme circumstances, however.
The Federal Firearms Act of 1938 requires all guns to be sold by a licensed Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer. It also denies the transfer of firearms to felons.
The Gun-Free School Zones Act (1990) prohibits unauthorized individuals from knowingly possessing a firearm at a place that the individual knows is a school zone.
The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act or PLCAA (2005) protects firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable when users commit crimes with their products.
Georgia has some less obvious, but still important laws to keep in mind.
It is against the law to discharge a firearm while engaged in any shooting activity under the influence of alcohol or any drug or any combination of alcohol and any drug. The only exception to this rule is in defense of life, self or property.
Georgia Codes 16-11-122 and 16-11-124(4) prohibit the possession of a short-barreled rifle or shotgun, silencer, explosive device or machine gun.
Those exempt from these laws must register these devices in accordance with the National Firearms Act.
It is unlawful to point a firearm at another person. This is absolutely the most negligent thing someone can do while handling a firearm.
Discharging a firearm within 50 yards of a public highway or street is also illegal. Other than some types of shotgun shells used for bird-hunting, all firearms send its projectiles for 50 yards easily. Some rifle calibers are capable of shooting accurately at up to 600 yards.
Additionally, it is illegal to discharge a firearm on private property without the owner’s permission.
Amidst the chaos of this nationwide debate over the Second Amendment lie Georgians. As journalists, it is our job to educate and inform the public on topics that get lost in the labyrinth of statistics and proposed policy.
We hope to help people navigate that labyrinth with information, so they might form their own opinions on the subject and lead their lives accordingly.