It’s nice to be able to cover some good news for gun owners on Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, and the unanimous decision handed down by the Georgia Supreme Court this week is very good news indeed for those of us who recognize that the Second Amendment protects a fundamental and substantive right to both keep and bear arms.
On Tuesday, the state’s high court rejected an argument by DeKalb County officials, who’d claimed that when the background checks for concealed carry applicants come back with incomplete information, county probate judges are within their rights to deny an applicant their license.
Instead, the justices sided with plaintiff Clinton Bell, who had been denied his carry license because his background check showed that he’d been arrested for pointing a gun at someone back in 1986, but the check did not include any information about the ultimate disposition of the case (Bell, for the record, was never prosecuted).
Under Georgia law, a probate judge has 10 days from receiving the background report to either grant or deny an application. Licenses cannot be issued for a number of reasons, such as whether the applicant has a felony conviction, a conviction for carrying a weapon without a license, certain mental-health issues or a conviction for a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
In recent years, probate courts have been deluged with applications for carry licenses. In 2020 alone, there were more than 291,000 applications statewide, according to court records.
Cherokee County Probate Judge Keith Wood said many reports show applicants have no criminal histories or, if they do, show the dispositions of their cases. But it is not out of the ordinary for judges to get incomplete reports with outcomes that are hard to track down.
“We’re relying on agencies to input information into the system,” said Wood, who chairs the weapons carry license committee for the Council of Probate Court Judges of Georgia. “Sometimes it’s not done correctly.”
That may be a problem for the law enforcement agencies and even the probate judges, but it absolutely should not be a disqualifying factor for those wishing to carry a firearm in self-defense. We’re talking about the exercise of a constitutionally protected right, and that shouldn’t be taken away from someone based on the possibility that they might not be eligible to exercise that right. Instead, the burden should be on the state to prove that the individual cannot legally own or carry a firearm. Thankfully, the Georgia Supreme Court agrees.
… Justice Verda Colvin, who wrote the Supreme Court opinion, said Georgia law says a probate judge “shall” issue a license unless there’s a factual finding the applicant is ineligible for one.
“(M)ere speculation or uncertainty about an applicant’s qualifications for a weapons carry license cannot support a determination that an applicant is ineligible or disqualified,” Colvin wrote.
The justice added that the court was unpersuaded by the county’s argument that probate judges should be given greater discretion to deny carry licenses to protect the public from dangerous people.
“Balancing policy considerations is a job for the General Assembly,” Colvin wrote. “It is not for us to second-guess the General Assembly’s policy determinations.”
Colvin, who’s the newest justice on the state Supreme Court, is spot-on in her reasoning here. We simply cannot allow the government to deprive people of their rights because of failures or flaws on the part of governmental agencies, at least not without violating those individuals’ rights. It may be difficult or even impossible in some circumstances to go back and improve record keeping and submissions to NICS or state-based background check systems, but that’s not a justification to keep people at arms’ length from their right to keep and bear arms.