Political Insider

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The Georgia law that makes guns something close to sacred

The timing may be inconvenient, but it is not disrespectful or impolite. The mass murder of scores of innocents and the wounding of 500 more by a single human being requires this country to reassess its relationship with firearms.

There are times when I think we sometimes confuse the right to bear arms with the right to worship as we please — whether God or smoking hunks of metal. This is one of them.

The post-Las Vegas conversation in Georgia began Monday night at the Carter Center, where two Democratic candidates for governor had their first joint forum.

Stacey Abrams of Atlanta and Stacey Evans of Smyrna, both former members of the state House, uttered phrases sure to be unacceptable to the National Rifle Association.

The pair virtually guaranteed that next year’s race for governor won’t just be about gender. It’ll be about guns, too. Truthfully, the odds of a Democratic victory may have just gotten much steeper as a result.

“Unfortunately, there have been too many acts of political cowardice in the wake of gun violence,” Abrams began. She didn’t exempt black-on-black murder in Chicago, D.C., or Atlanta. Abrams also noted President Donald Trump’s February decision to roll back an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun.

Evans was more detailed. She called for a roll back of the “guns everywhere” bill passed into law by the Legislature in 2014, opening more places to those with concealed weapons. “We don’t need guns in our churches. We don’t need guns in all the public places that that bill allows,” Evans said.

She also called for repeal of legislation signed into law this year by Gov. Nathan Deal to allow concealed weapons on public university campuses. “That is wrong. It’s hurting our recruitment of teachers and students, and it’s putting our students at risk,” Evans said.

I would suggest two more topics for future discussion.

At this writing, we do not know whether the Las Vegas shooter, may his name be erased from this earth, had access to automatic weapons. Authorities there said Tuesday that he had converted at least one semi-automatic rifle to permit rapid fire.

Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said the gun had a “bump stock” alteration that allows for multiple shots from a single pull.

These and similar devices are illegal in some states, but not in Nevada or Georgia. There’s the “trigger crank,” for example, which fits over a trigger and guard. For $19.99 plus shipping, I can turn the right rifle into my own mini-Gatling gun tomorrow. Given that trigger cranks require the use of one hand to turn the crank, accuracy can be compromised — but that is not necessarily the point of a Gatling gun.

Perhaps this should be harder to do.

Then we have what may be the most egregious gun law in Georgia. Passed in 2012, to little fanfare, Senate Bill 350 prohibits the destruction of firearms confiscated by local law enforcement during criminal investigations. More important, the law requires cities and counties to auction off the guns they collect within six months — so that the weaponry can be put back in circulation.

First let us note that this does not include weapons stolen from innocent parties. In those cases, law enforcement agencies are required to do their best to reunite owners and property.

Also, some language in SB 350 indicates that it was intended to apply only to weapons confiscated from burglary and robbery investigations. But many municipalities and counties say the measure clearly applies to all guns confiscated by law enforcement. Rape and murder investigations included.

Money can be made from guns used in notorious crimes. Two years ago, the pistol used in 1972 to put Alabama Gov. George Wallace in a wheelchair the rest of his life fetched $28,750.

The Georgia law is something of an embarrassment in Democratic quarters. Final, overwhelming passage came on the last, furious day of the 2012 session. Abrams opposed it, but one of her key supporters, state Sen. Nan Orrock of Atlanta, voted for it. As did then-Sen. Vincent Fort, now a candidate for mayor of Atlanta.

Evans voted for it, too. And like others, regrets it, according to a spokesman. She would like to see its repeal.

As distasteful as this law is, it contains no enforcement provisions. No fines penalize local governments that ignore it – as many no doubt have. And yet there is the fear that some damned fool or another will force the issue in court.

State Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, is the author of SB 84, a bill to repeal the auction requirement. “The guns that bad people like, they use over and over again. They don’t go into stores and buy new guns,” Jackson said. His bill did not move in the 2017 session, but he hopes for better results next year.

Here’s where I would engage my conservative friends who like to dabble in theology. Let’s ignore the distasteful financial side of this. Gun enthusiasts often say that weapons are mere tools. Only people kill people. Let’s go with that.

Georgia law now says that if a wooden baseball bat is used to kill a woman, local governments are free to burn it afterwards. If a knife slashes, it can be melted down. A crowbar, too.

But under Georgia law, a gun is more equal than other tools. Not only must it be preserved, it must be allowed to find a new life with a new owner, regardless of its past. Under Georgia law, the gun has become sacred. Not the possession of it, which has its own constitutional protections, but the thing itself.

That sounds an awful lot like Golden Calf territory. But don’t take my word for it — check your Third Commandment to be sure.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.