A Mass Shooting Tragedy Claims 49 Lives
On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen, a U.S.-born-and-raised Afghani, entered an Orlando night club with a SIG Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 and killed 49 people while pledging allegiance to ISIL. It is the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001 and the deadliest single-gunman mass shooting in U.S. history. Following the tragedy, the long-standing debate over regulation of gun ownership in the US rages on. Part of the debate over whether gun ownership restrictions would have prevented the Orlando tragedy stems from the fact that Mateen held a valid concealed carry permit and legally purchased the weapons and ammunition he used even though the FBI briefly placed Mateen on a terrorist watch list following his expression of pro-al-Quaeda and pro-ISIS sentiments.
President Obama addressed the victims of the Pulse night club rampage and the nation, asking once again for Congress to take steps to curtail gun violence. It was the 14th time in less than eight years he’d addressed the nation following a mass shooting.
Regulation of Gun Ownership in the United States and in Georgia
Two types of laws impact gun ownership – federal law and the laws of the state in which the gun is present. Since 1994, federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not private sellers) to conduct a background check on a purchaser before sale. But, if the purchaser has a valid state license to own a firearm, the seller is excused from conducting a background check. It is estimated that as many as 40% of all gun sales are performed “privately” and, therefore, outside of federal law.
Georgia does not require a permit to purchase firearms, registration of firearms or the licensing of firearms owners within the state (except as to persons under 18 who are generally not allowed to possess weapons). Instead, under Georgia’s “Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014” (HB60), only the carry of weapons in public places is regulated. A Georgia Weapons License is required to carry a firearm in public, including in bars, schools, churches and some government buildings. No carry license is required if the firearm is in a person’s home or place of business or during transport in a private vehicle. Georgia also recognizes the lawfully issued permits of those states who recognize Georgia Weapons Licenses as valid authority to possess weapons in the sister state (regardless of the sister state’s permit requirements).
Since its passage, about 500,000 Georgia residents (roughly 5% of the state’s population) obtained a Georgia Weapons License. The licensing process requires a fingerprint-based state and federal database criminal history check. Once issued, it allows the resident “to carry any weapon in any county of this state” unless specifically excluded by statute and is valid for five years.
However, Code Section 16-11-127, subdivision (c) (as well as Section 16-11-126, subdivision (d)) preserve the right of private property owners or controllers to “exclude or eject a person who is in possession of a weapon … on their private property.”
What it Means for Georgia Employers
Code section 16-11-135 appears to prevent private employers from enacting policies restricting employees’ firearms possession at work. However, subdivision (k) of that section specifically provides that private employers who own or legally control the property do not lose any of their rights as property owners. Thus, such employers may exclude firearms as specified in sections 16-11-127, subdivision (c) and 16-11-126(d). If the employer also owns, lawfully controls or restricts access to its employees’ parking facilities, it may also prohibit presence of firearms in employee vehicles and may search employee vehicles to ensure compliance with its employment policies.
State government employers may not enact regulations restricting weapons possession by the public and may not enact policies that restrict employees from possessing weapons locked in personal vehicles parked in parking lots accessible to the public.
Finally, although the law allows carrying weapons while transporting students to/from school in a private vehicle or while transiting through a school safety zone, the law generally prohibits carrying weapons in school safety zones (which include the real property and buildings of public or private schools, colleges or universities) except in very limited circumstances.
What Might Change
Were Georgia to enact more restrictive gun ownership laws as a result of the Orlando tragedy – and those preceding it – the most likely changes would be the adoption of some form of background check to purchase ortransfer a firearm. But, such changes are unlikely. Following the horrific shooting of 20 elementary school students and 6 teachers in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, Republicans and some Democrats in Congress soundly rejected a proposal to require individuals purchasing firearms at gun shows or online to undergo a background check. The State of Georgia further relaxed its gun possession laws to allow carry of weapons in bars, near schools and churches and in certain government buildings.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump favors loosening federal gun laws, and instead proposes asserting tighter controls on immigration to protect citizens against gun violence. However, it’s unlikely such restrictions would impact gun violence in the U.S. According to the US Department of Justice and the Council on Foreign Affairs, an average of 11,385 people die in the U.S. each year in firearm incidents. In the same period, terrorism-related deaths average 517 per year. If the September 11, 2001 attack is removed (which did not involve firearms), the annual average is 31. Comparatively, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton favors reinstating the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (banning assault weapons) and blocking gun sales for those on the Department of Homeland Security’s “no-fly” list. However, the ban had little impact on reducing gun violence. Only two percent of gun crimes involved assault weapons before the ban was enacted, and the ban did not impact sales or possession of the 25-50 million large-capacity magazine firearms in the U.S., which are used in crime much more frequently than assault weapons.