Just finished a conversation with state Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour, R-Snellville, who asked his chamber today to delay action on SB 350, his bill to require law enforcement to return weapons used in crimes to their owners – at least, the innocent ones.
Let’s say a pistol stolen in a burglary is later used to rob a convenience store. Under this measure, ultimately, that piece would be returned to its legal owner. Not a big deal.
The bill is more significant for what it doesn’t contain. Four years ago, Balfour was a key figure in the business-backed fight against a bill pushed by the National Rifle Association that would have allowed legal gun-owners to keep firearms in locked cars on their employers’ parking lots.
It was a very large fight, very nasty, pitting property rights against gun rights. Balfour was the fellow who applied the coup de grace to the legislation.
But in the four years’ since, the Senate rules chairman has had a change of heart – the result, he said, of a conversation with NRA chief Wayne LaPierre, who made this point: “If every business owner said you can’t have a gun in their parking lot, the only place you could have a gun is at home.”
As long as you didn’t rent.
“You could drive around with a gun in your car – as long as you didn’t stop,” Balfour said. In any case, the rules chairman said, the number of gunowners who keep firearms in their cars despite company rules or – in some cases, actual laws — is infinite. In essence, regardless of current statutes, guns in parking lots have become a Second Amendment version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
So why isn’t Balfour’s change of heart contained in his legislation? Because, the rules chairman said, it is still a delicate issue among key GOP constituencies – chambers of commerce and Second Amendment enthusiasts. The Senate Republican caucus hasn’t reached a consensus on the issue, he said.
Let us offer another possibility. The largest gun issue hanging over the Legislature this year is the demand for the right of college students (over the age of 21) to legally carry concealed weapons – on their persons – on public university campuses. Fueled by a number of robberies and assaults on and around the Georgia Tech campus. University officialdom has lobbied heavily against it.
Balfour won’t even concede that campus-carry is a matter for discussion. “I don’t hear that conversation in the Senate at all,” he said.
So let us review.
The man in charge of the flow of legislation in the state Senate may have just told gun-rights supporters what legislation might be within reach this year, with some significant persuading of his fellow GOP lawmakers. He also may have just told them what is impossible.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider