On April 16 this year our nation was outraged to hear news of the horrific massacre that took place on the campus of Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va. As the chilling details evolved of this senseless loss of 32 people at one of our nation’s premier universities, the Georgia State Legislature was busy at work trying to finish the 2007 session.
Two of the bills being considered at that time were SB 43 and HB 89, both gun bills that had received an enormous amount of discussion during the session. Under the wise counsel of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and other legislative leaders, action on both bills was suspended for the year as the Legislature and our state grieved along with the Hokie nation.
Although appropriately delayed at the time, debate has already been rekindled for next year.
While SB 43 and HB 89 started out separately, they had essentially been combined into one piece of legislation before discussion was suspended and pitted two of the most powerful lobbying groups at the Capital against each other.
Supporting the legislation was the National Rifle Association and opposing it was the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
HB 89, which had passed the House and was very close to going to a vote before the Senate, dealt with allowing motorists without a serious criminal record or a history of mental illness to hide firearms anywhere inside of a car.
Current Georgia law allows motorists to keep their loaded firearms in a car’s glove box, center console or “fully exposed to view” unless they have a concealed handgun permit.
Supporters of the proposed change claim that law-abiding citizens should have ready access to firearms and that gun owners, not the government should be able to determine where a weapon is best accessible in case of self-defense.
Besides, they say, the Second Amendment gives us the right to keep and bear arms in our homes and a car is our private property and an extension of our homes and therefore should be given the same rights.
Critics of the change say that it would bypass the current concealed weapons permit process and allow any gun owner to hide a weapon in a car without criminal background and/or mental health checks.
They also claim that the potential for more violent road rage incidents would increase and that it would endanger police at traffic stops.
Similar to HB 89, SB 43 dealt with guns in vehicles. Initially, the bill started out to allow employees to store firearms inside their personal vehicles while parked in a company parking lot. Again, supporters saw this as a preservation of their second amendment rights and argued that employees should be able to carry guns in their personal property (vehicles) for protection.
The business community, represented by the Chamber of Commerce, saw the proposed law as an infringement on their property rights and an unnecessary interference by the government into a business’ relationship with its employees.
Although it still did not satisfy the concerns of the business community, a compromise was offered that would not stop employers from banning guns on their parking lots, but would prevent them from searching vehicles on their lots in a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” scenario.
While gun bills are certainly nothing new for the Legislature, it will be interesting to see if the Virginia Tech tragedy has an impact on future debate — and if it does, what effect that will be. Some will argue that this horrific tragedy proves that guns are too accessible while others will say that the tragedy could have been lessened had other students had access to guns.
Whatever the outcome, two things are certain here — the gun debate in our state and nation will continue and on April 16, 2007, we all became a part of the Hokie nation.
Buddy Carter represents District 159, which includes part of Effingham County.