At this point, the broad Second Amendment right of Americans to bear arms is a pretty settled matter.
The same can’t be said at the state level. The issue of gun rights and concurrent responsibilities arouses powerful passions on all sides. Which is understandable, since words in a law can result in lives being spared or lost on our streets.
The latest chapter in how all that works in Georgia will be written later this week in the final, harried days of this legislative session. Lawmakers are picking over various writings of concealed weapons laws. Their work will, among other things, determine how firearms laws affect the mentally ill, or carry of weapons into government buildings, schools, or houses of worship.
Although the House and Senate should have worked out their sizable differences on this issue long before now, lawmakers’ dithering reflects a sound, underlying instinct. The value of human life demands no less than painstaking, sober, commonsense and clear-eyed consideration of troublesome points in legislation now under consideration.
As a citizen guide on how to view the debate, it helps to look at how the Second Amendment was interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008’s landmark D.C. vs. Heller ruling. The high court acknowledged that, yes, the Second Amendment confers rights to citizens well beyond what’s necessary to raise an old-style armed militia. In its summary, though, the court also held that: “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose … . The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings … .”
In other words, even constitutional rights are not absolute. Meanwhile, the most ardent proponents of gun rights speak often of how precious little, if even anything, should trump the broadest interpretation of a constitutional right. That’s a naïve, if not disingenuous, assertion .
Consider that the Constitution also addresses the right to vote. And we all know of requirements and restrictions on this cherished right. Some remain the subject of argument to this day.
Balancing rights and responsibilities is a foundational task of government. When that’s done wisely and well, society benefits and rights are safeguarded. This point cannot be forgotten.
One controversial casualty of legislative haggling as of this writing appears to be so-called campus carry.
A House-passed bill as written, in effect, would have allowed guns on campus – with a wink and a nod. Get caught with a gun at a public college as a Georgia Weapons Carry License holder and you’d be subject only to a civil fine not to exceed $100. Many college textbooks cost more than that.
It is good that legislators apparently deep-sixed this unacceptable resolution for a public policy issue on which there is deep, legitimate disagreement. Georgia law already allows the keeping of weapons locked in cars on campus. To our mind, that already addresses concerns about gun-owning students’ safety in dicey neighborhoods outside school gates.
Since the matter’s unlikely to end this year, we’d note that a poll conducted in January for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 78 percent of Georgians surveyed statewide opposed allowing the carry of guns on campuses.
Other gun-carry expansions were in play this year as well. House Bill 875 would allow permit holders to have guns in vehicles within k-12 school zones or at off-property school events. It would also let school systems choose to allow employees to carry or possess guns in schools if they undergo training. If enacted, these would make for profound expansions of weapons rights. Legislators should painstakingly and prayerfully consider their merit.
As for training, many people agree that it is a good thing when it comes to possession and operation of potentially deadly objects, be they an automobile or a holstered firearm on a hip. The training provision of the bill introduces the legitimate question of why proficiency and knowledge would be required for an educator to possess a gun at school, but not of others who hold a weapons carry license?
Yet, Georgia law, unlike that of some other concealed carry states, contains no training requirement or proof of minimal marksmanship proficiency before weapons permits are issued.
The staunchest Second Amendment advocates have long believed otherwise. Since its founding in 1871, the National Rifle Association has been a strong supporter of training and education in the handling and use of firearms. Massad F. Ayoob, an armed defense instructor, police officer and one of the nation’s strongest lobbyists for the Second Amendment, has written that, “It is my personal opinion that every applicant for a carry permit should pass a written examination on self-defense and lethal force laws, and a close-range qualification run over a combat pistol shooting course.”
The AJC’s January poll supports the notion of required training; 82 percent of those polled would require gun owners who carry in public to first complete a safety course.
Lawmakers should seriously consider making rigorous training mandatory for first-time weapons permit applicants. We require proficiency for those holding drivers’ licenses. Doing the same for those who want to carry a gun seems equally reasonable.
These and other gun-related issues deserve lawmakers’ and citizens’ earnest attention during the session’s last days.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.