When state Sen. Jeff Mullis stepped into the well Wednesday to explain Senate Bill 102 to his colleagues, the first few words of his introduction were blunt if a bit unusual.
“This is a gun bill, an NRA bill,” the Chickamauga Republican said. “You’re either for guns, or you’re against guns.”
In other words, you will vote yes on this bill or you will face the wrath of the National Rifle Association. If you do not bow to the whims of the NRA, no matter how nonsensical they might be, you will be deemed to be against guns and against the Second Amendment. No personal judgment on such matters will be tolerated.
To be fair, parts of the bill are fine. Among other things, it would repeal the state’s current ban on carrying firearms in a place of worship. (Gun advocates had tried to get the ban overturned in federal court, but were rebuffed.)
Personally, I don’t have a big problem with that particular change. Taking a deadly weapon to church seems an odd choice, but odd choices shouldn’t necessarily be outlawed. Besides, taking a handgun to church is certainly less dangerous than packing heat in a bar, which the state Legislature legalized just a year ago.
Furthermore, under the bill, religious institutions retain the right to ban weapons if they choose. That, too, seems appropriate. As Mullis noted, it’s a property rights issue, giving places of worship the same right to ban or allow firearms as other property owners.
However, other parts of the bill are considerably more problematic and puzzling. For example, current law makes it illegal to grant a concealed-carry license to a person who is charged with committing a felony. If the defendant is later found innocent, the permit can then be issued.
Under SB 102, felony defendants will be eligible to carry a gun legally.
In addition, concealed-weapon permit holders no longer would be required to have those permits with them when they’re packing a weapon.
I don’t understand the logic behind that provision. What happens if a law enforcement officer spots and intercepts a person carrying a concealed weapon? The person can claim to have a permit for the weapon, but would have no legal obligation to produce it. How does that help either the officer or the permit holder?
When questioned by a fellow senator, Mullis offered no real explanation for the change. “We believe the right to bear arms is the right to bear arms,” he said, presumably meaning that he doesn’t like the idea of permits in the first place.
During the debate, state Sen. Steve Thompson, a conservative Cobb County Democrat, questioned the necessity and the wisdom of that provision. He also bristled at the claim that anyone who dares question an NRA-backed bill is by definition against guns. (Of course, before doing so, he felt obliged to rattle off the eight hunting or antique weapons that he himself owns.)
“It seems like these groups just run out of things to introduce to try to justify their existence,” Thompson said.
That sounds about right. In fact, the NRA also is playing the same kind of game at the national level.
In the wake of the tragic Tucson shootings in which six people were killed and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded, President Barack Obama has proposed to upgrade the criminal background-check system to make it easier to identify people with mental illness. The intent is to make it more difficult for people such as Jared Loughner to acquire weapons.
Surely, Obama wrote in an article in the Arizona Daily Star, we ought to be able to agree on that much. Surely there’s a consensus on that much.
But no, there isn’t.
Rather than take on the NRA and lose, Obama invited the group to work with his administration on making those minor changes. But NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre angrily refused.
“Why should I sit down with a group of people who have spent their life fighting the Second Amendment?” he said.
The sad truth is, LaPierre’s salary and the NRA’s bureaucracy and fund-raising depend on maintaining the illusion that there can be no consensus about common-sense gun laws. “You’re either for guns or you’re against guns,” as the saying goes, and if the test of being “for guns” is to support ever more nonsensical gun legislation, as it has become here in Georgia, the NRA is perfectly willing to make that claim stick.
– Jay Bookman