Editor’s Note: Warren Summers, the chief of police in Norcross, Georgia, has been a police officer since 1976. He has also worked as an assistant district attorney. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed Safe Carry Protection Act
Warren Summers says police can't ask suspicious person with gun to show permit
Convicted felons can't have firearms, he says, unless they claim self-defense
Summers: The law will cost taxpayers and make it hard for police to keep people safe
On Wednesday, Gov. Nathan Deal signed Georgia’s Safe Carry Protection Act into law. Many gun proponents love House Bill 60, but it will create unintended problems for law enforcement, local governments and the citizens they serve. Although changes in the state’s gun laws were meant to strike a balance between the rights of gun owners and the government’s interest in protecting its citizens, unintended consequences may follow that don’t make anybody safe.
Picture this: It’s a pleasant summer day. The kids are out of school, and you’ve decided to take them to the local park. You’re sitting on a park bench in the shade, watching them play, when you suddenly notice a man dressed in a heavy winter coat approaching the playground.
As he scurries past you, you notice a handgun strapped around his waistband. Alarmed? You should be. Who is this man, and why is he armed at your children’s playground? Concerned enough to call the local police?
Not a bad idea, but here is the problem. Starting July 1, law enforcement in Georgia will not be able do much for you. As a matter of fact, they could get sued if they detain the man you called about and ask him whether he has a valid weapons carry license. That’s because, under Georgia’s revised Safe Carry Protection Act, it is prohibited for police to detain someone for the purpose of checking for a license. So much for safe.
But wait, it gets better. Worried about convicted felons toting guns? Rest assured, convicted felons are still prohibited from possessing firearms in Georgia – except in the act of self-defense.
But, you might ask, don’t you have to possess a firearm first in order to be able to use it in self-defense? Correct. So, what kind of sense does that make? It doesn’t. It encourages gun ownership and use by convicted felons. Think about it. All they have to do now is claim “self-defense.” Feeling safer already?
Finally, Georgia’s revised Safe Carry Protection Act may also cost you more money. Before this law, cities could simply prohibit firearms or any other weapons in government buildings by posting a sign; now, they can do so only by screening entrances into the government building with security personnel. And guess who ends up paying for that? That’s right, the taxpayer. And if the police officer is sued for asking to see a gun carry permit, who will pay for his or her defense? It will be up to the municipality, using taxpayer funds.
But not only does it cost us more, it also has a chilling effect on open government. Many citizens might feel discouraged from visiting their local government offices, knowing that they are now subject to being screened.
While these revisions certainly favor the rights of gun owners, they create dilemmas for local law enforcement and government. As a police chief, my main concern is the safety our residents. As police, we have taken an oath to protect and serve, and this new law doesn’t help us.
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