Ga. Legislature Pushes to Loosen Gun Laws 2 Weeks After Spa Shootings
Democrats, who are in the minority in the state, had instead proposed measures to enact a five-day waiting period and require background checks before buying a gun
Some two weeks after eight people were killed during a shooting spree targeting Asian spas in the Atlanta area, state senators voted to pass a measure that loosens the state's gun laws.
The bill — which is now headed to the state House of Representatives — illustrates the gulf between Democrats, who want to tighten gun laws in response to gun violence, and Republicans, who are working to expand gun access and ownership.
Following the March 16 spree shootings, for which the suspect reportedly purchased his gun used just hours before, Georgia's Democratic minority introduced multiple legislative measures including enacting a five-day waiting period and requiring background checks before buying a gun in the state.
Proponents of those changes say they would close loopholes through which people who are otherwise prohibited from purchasing firearms can acquire them via online sales or at gun shows.
Another piece of legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Elena Parent, a Democrat, would make it a misdemeanor to leave loaded firearms around children, though that measure hasn't gotten a hearing in the state's Republican-controlled Senate.
By contrast, the GOP-led measure that passed the state's Senate on Monday would loosen gun laws, allowing Georgia to honor concealed carry licenses from any state rather than only those from states that have specific agreements with Georgia.
State Sen. Bo Hatchett, the Republican who sponsored the legislation, described it to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as "a Second Amendment protection bill that further recognizes Georgia's commitment to protect its citizens and their Second Amendment rights."
PEOPLE's request for comment from Hatchett's office was not immediately returned.
An amendment to the bill would also make it easier for those who live in the state to obtain gun carry licenses online. Additionally, the amendment would restrict the power of Georgia's governor to close down weapons manufacturers or shooting ranges during a public emergency such as a pandemic.
While advocates of gun ownership argue this addition to the measure ensures that Second Amendment rights are protected during crises, those opposed say it would restrict public health officials' ability to protect Georgians during declared states of emergency.
In a pair of tweets on Monday, state Sen. Michelle Au (the sponsor of the bills mandating a five-day waiting period and requiring background check before purchasing a firearm) acknowledged that Georgia Democrats face an uphill ballot in tightening gun laws, due to the Republican-controlled legislature.
"We'll have a hard time winning these important votes until we elect more Democrats — that's just a fact," Au wrote. "But we can continue to frame the issue, have the important conversations, move the needle, and we will never, ever give up."
Courtney Spriggs, leader of the Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, says the measure passed by the state senators would "endanger public safety further."
"When lawmakers had an opportunity to pass legislation proposed by our own Asian-American officials that would have been life-saving ... they instead chose to decrease public safety and put lives at risk," Spriggs tells PEOPLE.
She adds that the amendment to the bill is also troubling and "certainly won't increase gun safety."
"The focus during a state of emergency should be public safety, not curtailing the power of the government or of local law enforcement," she says.
In the wake of both the Atlanta spree shooting and a mass shooting days later in Colorado, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called on Congress to pass gun reform — something that has stymied legislators for years, given the sweeping interpretation of the Second Amendment favored by many conservatives.
In a recent interview with CBS This Morning, Harris, 56, said that legislative action would have a more "lasting impact" than executive measures taken by the president.
"If we pass legislation, it's permanent," she said on CBS. "If the Congress acts, then it becomes law. And that is what we have lacked. That is what has been missing."
In a recent address at the White House, Biden also called on the Senate to pass two House bills that would enact an assault weapons ban and close background check loopholes.
Biden, 78, said those measures are "common sense steps that will save lives in the future."
Speaking to PEOPLE from Georgia, Spriggs says a federally-mandated background check law would be a great "first step" in curtailing gun violence.
"That seems to be the thing to be most hopeful for right now, and 98 percent of Americans support that," she says. "Certainly, current events call for that to happen. This is a public health crisis."