Kemp makes Constitutional Carry priority for 2022 session

(Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)

The bruising primary fight for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Georgia may end up benefitting gun owners in the state, with Gov. Brian Kemp hoping to keep conservatives happy by turning a permitless carry proposal into law. Both Kemp and his primary challenger, former U.S. Senator David Perdue, have given the thumbs up to Constitutional Carry, but Kemp is pushing for the legislature to adopt the measure before voters head to the polls in the state’s primary in May.

The Republican is set to announce his plan Wednesday to allow more Georgians to carry concealed weapons without a state permit, which he’s likely to frame as fulfilling a pledge he made during his 2018 run for governor.

“In the face of rising violent crime across the country, law-abiding citizens should have their constitutional rights protected — not undermined,” he said in draft remarks.

“And while this position has recently become popular for others as we enter campaign season, my position has remained the same. I believe the United States Constitution grants our citizens the right to carry a firearm – without state government approval.”

It comes weeks after Kemp’s main Republican rival, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, attempted to outflank the governor by promising to pass a similar proposal. And it will spark a new fight with Stacey Abrams and other Democrats who call for increased firearm restrictions to reduce violence.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is right that the push for permitless carry won’t go over well among Democrats like Stacey Abrams, but the issue could prove to be more problematic for the Left than the paper anticipates. Abrams, for example, has championed the cause of criminal justice reform for years now, but now her campaign manager is arguing that actually, we actually do need to continue criminalizing the carrying of a concealed firearm without a license, even if the gun is legally owned and even if the law disproportionately affects young black men.

“The same guy who pointed a gun at a teenager on TV now panders with reckless proposals threatening Georgia lives,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ campaign manager. “As her opponents run to dangerous extremes and fight desperately to salvage their political careers, Abrams is fighting for Georgians and their safety.”

There’s a growing number of voices on the left like the public defenders in New York City who see these types of restrictions as doing more harm than good, even if they’re not big fans of the Second Amendment itself. So yes, the push for Constitutional Carry in Georgia will prompt a backlash among Democrats, but don’t be surprised if there a fair amount of infighting on the left as well.

Pro-gun groups, meanwhile, are already mobilizing around the idea. GeorgiaCarry.org is an influential pro-gun lobby that rebranded this week as GA2A to sharpen its mission.

The group’s director, Jerry Henry, said the organization’s goal in 2022 is to “ensure that constitutional rights afforded to citizens of this great state are never infringed.”

Democrats and their allies frame the measure as an unnecessary political fight that will inevitably lead to more gun violence. State Sen. Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek, compared the need for a concealed weapons permit with the requirements for a driver’s license.

“To obtain a Georgia driver’s license, one has to demonstrate competency to drive on public roads, fulfill an educational requirement, show proof of ID, and have no major traffic violation convictions in the last year,” she said. “Can we agree such licensing requirements exist for good reason?”

A couple of points here: first, we’re talking about the exercise of a constitutionally protected right here, and I’m not aware of any other right that requires licensing by the state before one can legally exercise it.

But let’s also be honest about the limitations of Georgia’s drivers license law, which doesn’t appear to be doing much to stop the swarms of riders of ATVs and dirt bikes who are illegally taking to Atlanta’s streets. Similarly, the state’s concealed carry law isn’t actually stopping bad actors from illegally carrying a firearm. Instead, it may provide a criminal penalty for those who are caught, but given the rampant use of plea bargains in our criminal justice system the most likely outcome is probation and a small fine. That’s not much of a deterrent to someone intent on committing acts of violence, but it does prevent at least some law-abiding gun owners from carrying for personal protection.

From both a civil rights and criminal justice reform perspective, Democrats like Stacey Abrams should be on board with removing any barriers to the exercise of the right to bear arms. The fact that someone who’s previously called for transforming law enforcement and the “construct of public safety” is now campaigning to keep non-violent, possessory offenses on the books shows the power and influence of the gun control lobby is still alive and well in Democratic circles, if not the Georgia statehouse.