The state legislature in Georgia advanced a constitutional carry bill that would remove the license requirement for residents to carry a handgun in public.
A bill offered by state Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R) would make it so that any legal gun-owner in the state could carry a handgun — either openly or concealed — without needing a license to do so.
Democratic lawmakers have criticized the measure, claiming it would make it easier for criminals to get guns and warning that violence will increase. But Republicans counter that criminals don't abide by gun laws, which they say only serve to restrict the constitutional right to bear arms.
The bill was approved by the state Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and will next advance to a floor vote. Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has supported the bill, arguing Georgians have a constitutional right to self-defense.
According to the Associated Press, current license laws in Georgia require a background check to prevent certain people from acquiring guns, including convicted felons. Anavitarte said that background checks would still be required for gun purchases under his bill. He argued that criminals are unlikely to apply for a permit anyway, and removing the license requirement won't impact crime.
“The requirement to have a permit does not deter nor disincentive a criminal from carrying a firearm concealed,” he said. “They will do it regardless. Permitless carry gives criminals a reason to fear that any potential victim could be armed.”
Before the committee vote, state Sen. Elena Parent (D) claimed that removing the background check requirement for handgun licenses would "remove one of the very small" means by which guns are kept away from criminals.
Other Democrats asked if the bill's supporters had consulted with law enforcement and disputed that license requirements significantly curb 2nd Amendment rights, according to the AP.
Anavitarte answered that concerns about gun violence and safety can be addressed by increasing spending on law enforcement and policing.
Georgia law currently requires gun owners to obtain a license to carry a loaded handgun outside their own homes, in businesses, or in vehicles. Rifles and shotguns may be openly carried in many places without a permit, and unloaded guns can be carried in cases.
State residents that wish to obtain a handgun license must submit an application and pay a fee to do so. They are also required to have their fingerprints taken and to submit to a background check. Convicted felons, people who have been hospitalized for mental health problems, and those who have received treatment for drug or alcohol abuse in recent years before applying for a license are not eligible to obtain one.