Georgia Second Amendment advocates have been celebrating for the past week. On April 12, Gov. Brian Kemp signed SB 319 — dubbed by supporters as the Constitutional Carry Act — into law.
The measure, which took effect immediately, makes it legal for a “lawful weapons carrier” to carry concealed handguns without a permit anywhere that concealed carry permit holders are allowed to bring their firearms.
That still excludes government buildings and airports. Private businesses also have the right of refusal, according to the measure.
Similar bills were introduced last year in Texas and Tennessee, and have been passed by legislatures in at least 25 states, according to the National Rifle Association.
“SB 319 makes sure that law-abiding Georgians — including our daughters and your family, too — can protect themselves without having to ask permission from state government,” Kemp said before signing the bill.
Civil rights activists have strong opinions about whether Georgia’s new law will benefit the state’s Black residents. Supporters argue the law removes a legal barrier that has infringed on people’s Second Amendment rights amid a pandemic-fueled surge in first-time gun buyers.
“This bill is about self-protection and self-empowerment,” state Sen. Jason Anavitarte — the bill’s co-author — told reporters during Kemp’s signing. “It’s about disincentivizing criminals, empowering law-abiding citizens to defend themselves and their families.”
The nation’s rise in first-time gun buyers during the pandemic includes a growing number of Black people, motivated by rising crime and white supremacist violence. Many are wary of law enforcement and have been taking responsibility for their own safety by legally acquiring firearms, according to Douglas Jefferson, vice president of the National African American Gun Association. Jefferson’s organization advocates on behalf of Black citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
“You can either have an easier legal environment for you to carry firearms for your personal protection, or you can say you’re going to rely on the very same law enforcement that many complain are not responsive and can be downright antagonistic towards you and your community,” Jefferson said.
But some critics of the new Georgia law say it’s a political ploy by Republicans to energize their base ahead of the midterm elections in November.
“This is more performative politics than it is substantive policy,” the Rev. James Woodall said of SB 319. Woodall, a former Georgia NAACP president, is a U.S. Army veteran and owner of multiple firearms.
“There isn’t much more Georgia can do when it comes to the Second Amendment because we are already one of the least regulated states in the nation,” he said.
Woodall also pointed out the state’s self-defense laws haven’t always worked for Black gun owners who claim they used their weapons to protect themselves.
Attorneys for a biracial man named Marc Wilson argue their client fired a gun in self-defense in June 2020 when a pickup truck full of white passengers allegedly yelling racial slurs tried to run him off the road near Statesboro.
Authorities say at least one of Wilson’s bullets struck and killed 17-year-old Haley Hutchinson. Wilson is scheduled to go on trial for Hutchinson’s alleged murder.
That same month, in Statesboro, a Black woman named Ashlyn Griffin claimed she was defending herself when she fatally shot her boyfriend, Brandon McCray, at his home.
The district attorney who presented the case to a grand jury previously charged McCray with aggravated assault for allegedly beating Griffin while she was pregnant with the couple’s child. In February, Griffin was sentenced to 10 years in prison for McCray’s death.
“I went to college with Ashlyn. That’s why it was startling for me to see this happen,” said Woodall, who attended Georgia Southern University with Griffin. “We’ve seen the system fail when it comes to stand your ground and self-defense [laws].”
Other detractors of SB 319 fear it won’t stop law enforcement from infringing on Black gun owners’ right to self-defense, but it could embolden armed white vigilantes to confront people they view as a threat.
“This will enable people like the people who killed Ahmaud Arbery to bring that terror into schools, into events, into supermarkets, and expand the oppression of people of color,” Atlanta NAACP President Richard Rose said. “This is not new. It’s to be expected, but it’s going to be a travesty.”
For some, it’s also personal. U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, representing Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, lost her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, when he was fatally shot by an armed, white concealed carry permit holder named Michael David Dunn in November 2012.
Dunn was later convicted of first-degree murder for killing Davis outside a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, after arguing with the teen and his companions for playing loud music inside their vehicle.
“As a mother who lost her son to senseless gun violence, I am reminded every day of the danger these types of laws pose to our families,” McBath said regarding the enactment of SB 319. “Moreover, communities of color are disproportionately impacted by gun violence, which is why we must do all we can to continue opposing this measure.”