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Packing Heat in Georgia

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There was a little man and he had a little gun . . . .

– Opening line of a nursery rhyme

The question a number of you have asked is whether the events in Cumming, Georgia that took place on June 6 would have been any different after July 1, 2014.  That is the date that the “Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014” goes into effect.  Not all my readers have read of that act and a brief word of explanation is in order.

Georgia legislators believe that the reason we have so many gun inspired deaths in this country is because our citizens are not adequately armed. Legislators can point to random shootings occurring on a daily basis in which innocent people have been killed in recent months,  many of them in schools.  The shootings range from those in which many are shot before the shooter kills himself or is caught and those in which only one or two people are killed.  What is obvious to the legislators is that many of these deaths could have been avoided if more citizens were permitted to carry arms and could respond to the violence by shooting the shooter before the shooter shoots himself.  That explains  why during 2014, the Georgia legislature passed, and the governor signed, the “Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014”.  The purpose of that act is to make Georgia a safer place.  The way that is accomplished is by increasing the places into which people with concealed carry permits can carry guns.

The act permits concealed carry in all sorts of buildings and institutions.  For example, a person who “has been authorized in writing by a duly authorized official” may carry a concealed weapon in the school safety zone of all educational institutions in Georgia.    (The “school safety zone” refers to a building owned or leased by the educational organizations described in the act.)  Patrons of bars may find themselves seated next to a drunk with a gun at the ready should violence erupt, unless the bar owner specifically bans individuals with concealed weapons.  Those in charge of churches may now permit weapons to accompany parishioners to all church functions. People entering government buildings do not have to worry about whether or not they’ve forgotten to leave their concealed weapon at home.  The act provides that license holders “shall be authorized to carry a weapon in a government building. . . when [it is] open for business. . .and where ingress is not restricted or screened by security personnel.”  If the building “is restricted or screened by security personnel” one of whom is certified as a peace officer, concealed carry is not permitted and a person entering the building with a weapon is guilty of a misdemeanor. All of that brings us to the question posed at the outset. That was whether what happened on June 6 would have happened after July 1.

The event that happened on June 6 was the attempt by Dennis Marx to enter the Courthouse in Cumming, Georgia.  Wearing body armor and a gas mask, brandishing an assault rifle, and using his car as a battering ram, he drove up to the courthouse, attempted to run over a deputy who tried to block him and threw out “homemade spike strips” to block other vehicles from following him. In his car he had gas grenades, smoke grenades and pepper spray grenades and assorted other paraphernalia.  Mr. Marx was engaged in a lawful pursuit in attempting to enter the courthouse.  He was facing 11 felony charges, 10 of which pertained to the manufacture and sale of illegal drugs and was going to court to enter a plea to the charges he was facing.  His preferred  method of entering was, of course, unlawful.  The question of whether his behavior might have had different consequences after July 1 is answered in the negative. The Safe Carry Protection Act does not permit people with assorted hand grenades to enter courthouses using vehicles as battering rams.  And even if Mr. Marx had not had in his possession all the weaponry  that he hoped would go into the courthouse with him (except for a concealed gun),  he would have been unable to enter the courthouse.  That is because even under the  liberal provisions of the “Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014”, concealed carry is not permitted in courthouses.

When Governor Eaton signed the “Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014” at a picnic ground in Ellijay, Georgia, he said:  “This law gives added protections to those who have played by the rules-and who can protect themselves and others from those who don’t play by the rules.”  Perhaps the governor or the legislators can explain why the legislature decided that the Act and what the governor described as its “added protections” would not apply to buildings with security screening.  Buildings excluded from the Act include the buildings in which legislators meet. Could it be that all their posturing notwithstanding, the governor and the legislators think they are safer if they are in an environment where no one has guns and, therefore, they have no need for the “added protection” afforded by the Act?  We’ll never know.

Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.

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