COMMENTARY | Georgia’s House of Representatives passed a bill, HB 512, by a margin of 117-56. It claims to expand the locations where you can carry a gun. But what isn’t receiving the same amount of attention is that it will make it easier for someone who is mentally handicapped to get a gun.
Fox Channel 31 in Albany, Ga., reported that the bill claims to expand access for wielding a gun to bars, churches and college campuses, but doesn’t automatically mean you really will be able to.
Georgians may also be surprised to learn that the National Rifle Association (NRA) did not back HB 512, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Instead, it was backed by a group called GeorgiaCarry.org.
The reasons why the NRA supported a different bill (SB 101) are unknown. Atlanta Magazine speculates that a lot of Georgia Republicans are also nervous about opposing the bill for fear of being “primaried” by more conservative candidates backed by the tea party. But the NRA and Georgia Republican legislators might not be enthusiastic about HB 512 because it makes it easier for the mentally ill to get a gun in Georgia.
Ed Stone, one of the founders of GeorgiaCarry.org, the gun group supporting HB 512 wrote a column about the bill. He described the many places Georgians could now carry a gun. Less well known is that HB 512 would reduce limits on gun licenses for those who have been hospitalized for mental health issues.
“What would change is that the scope of the inquiry would be narrowed from any hospitalization to involuntary hospitalization only,” writes Stone in another column. “In addition, for the first time, there would be a time limit on how long a probate judge may take to inquire into involuntary hospitalizations.” Stone adds “HB 512 removes a restriction on the right to bear arms from a person who voluntarily seeks help for mental or addiction issues.”
GeorgiaCarry.org’s website has a quote from its vice president, John Monroe, contending “The bill would make the mental health check mandatory, but clarify that it is only for involuntary hospitalizations, and put a time limit of 30 days on it. Moreover, the bill would allow an applicant to state that he or she has not been involuntarily hospitalized, and the probate judge would be bound to accept that statement if not rebutted by the state within 30 days…The burden of proof is on the applicant.”
The NRA supports stronger laws concerning reporting mental health cases to a national database. This would have stopped the Virginia Tech shooter from getting guns. More than 30 states do so already. Republicans have similarly called for solving mental health problems as a way to reduce gun violence. Georgia’s HB 512 appears to differ from the national GOP’s and NRA’s goal of getting guns out of the hands of those who have suffered from mental problems in the past. It remains to be seen what Georgia’s senate and Gov. Nathan Deal will do.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.