Legislature may be ready to tighten Ga. gun law, but just a little

State lawmakers on both sides of the gun debate will soon decide if the time is right to take steps to tighten Georgia’s gun law.

Under a long-standing law, the records of thousands of Georgians who were involuntarily committed for mental health treatment have been removed from a national database that gun dealers use to run background checks of buyers. That database is the only tool that gun dealers have to tell them when someone isn’t allowed to buy a gun.

All states are required to submit names to the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System of people who have been involuntarily hospitalized for mental health, drug or alcohol treatment. Licensed gun dealers must check that list before making a sale.

Georgia is the only state in the nation that removes names from the database after five years, with no new mental health assessment required. Since 2013, Georgia has purged 2,014 names from the FBI’s database.

Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, filed Senate Bill 99 last year to eliminate the Georgia requirement for the “purge” of records of involuntary hospitalizations after five years. The Senate passed the bill, but it was never passed by the House. The bill remains in a House committee.

MORE: Trump Administration change allows some facing arrest to have guns

ALSO: Judges reluctant to seize guns in domestic violence cases

AND: Federal appeals courts sides with physicians in ‘docs and Glocks’ case

While the proposal may not have a far-reaching impact on gun sales, it comes as public pressure for tighter controls is reaching a peak. Protests this week before state legislatures and Congress are calling for lawmakers to make changes after 17 students and teachers were shot and killed at a south Florida high school.

That has helped improve the chances of a change in Georgia law.

“I think they’re good,” Parent said of the chances her bill, or one like it, will get final passage this legislative session. “This is not a policy that anyone is opposed to. It really is just one of those vagaries of the system where there is a huge loophole.”

Much of the gun debate has focused on how people with mental illnesses get access to firearms.

“We’re OK with (Parent’s) bill,” said John Monroe, the attorney for GeorgiaCarry.org, which has been a lobbying force at the state Capitol for legislation about gun rights. “There’s no justification for the deletion (of names) after five years. It causes confusion because people think they can go buy a gun but they are still prohibited (from possessing a firearm) under federal law. Deleting (the names) makes it harder to discover it. But it is still a crime.”

Parent’s bill would allow those records to remain forever on the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System or NICS.

The new legislation would bring Georgia law more in line with federal law,” said Athens-Clarke County Probate Court Judge Susan Tate, chair of the Weapons Carry License Committee for the Council of Probate Court Judges of Georgia.

Former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, who is charged with 17 counts of murder in the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., reportedly suffered from depression. However, he was never ordered to undergo in-patient treatment — that step would have placed his name on the FBI database and blocked him from buying the AR-15 he allegedly used in the shooting.

On Wednesday, high school students swarmed the Florida’s Capitol, often running into roadblocks with legislators unwilling to tighten the law in that state. Also on Wednesday in Atlanta, across the street from the Georgia Capitol, about 1,000 rallied for stricter state gun laws.

“The tragic events in Parkland are the tipping point for my generation, said Jacob Busch, senior at Chamblee Charter High School said. “The time for sending thoughts and prayers without actually making change has run its course.”

House Democratic Leader Bob Trammell of Luthersville, urged the demonstrators, most of them dressed in red, to continue the group effort to change gun laws.

“Do you want to know how common sense gun laws are made? Look to your right. Look to your left. That’s how common sense gun laws are made,” Trammell said.

RELATED: Google searches for “gun control” and “gun shows”


Georgia is considered one of the nation’s most gun-friendly states. State law mirrors the minimum standards laid out in federal law. In addition to people who have been involuntarily hospitalized for treatment for mental illness or drug or alcohol addictions, those who cannot buy or possess a firearm also include felons, anyone convicted of domestic abuse, and anyone with a pending protective order because of stalking or harassment.

In January alone, there were 45,591 queries to NICS regarding Georgians applying permits to carry a handgun or to buy a so-called long gun. Nationwide in January, there were just over 2 million NICS checks.

In 2017, there were 541,655 background checks made from Georgia; 25.2 million nationwide. According to the FBI, Georgia was responsible for 612,985 of more than 27.5 million NICS background checks from all the states for gun purchase or carry permits.

While Probate Judge Tate welcomed the proposed change to stop Georgia from purging the database entries, she said other loopholes in the state law will not remedied by the proposed legislation.

Many times a person who is ordered to involuntarily submit to a mental health evaluation will decide to willingly got into treatment, which means their names will not appear in the FBI’s database of those prohibited from buying or possession of a firearm.

“A lot of people who are in our mental hospitals are considered voluntary patients but they went there (for evaluation) involuntarily,” Tate said. “We never know about it and those people never get reported.

GBI Director Vernon Keenan, whose agency feeds data into NICS, said Georgia had purged 13 names already this year. In 2017, the GBI added 2,863 records of involuntary treatment records to NICS but pulled out 212. Since 2013, Georgia has sent almost 9,800 records but purged 2,014 from NICS, even though federal law says anyone ever involuntarily hospitalized can never possess or buy a gun.

Once those records are purged, gun sellers have no way of knowing they shouldn’t sell to those Georgia residents.

“Those 2,000 persons are still prohibited from purchasing a firearm but they can go in and purchase a firearm because there’s nothing in the national database,” Keenan aid. “I think there’s a lot of concern that this is a gap in public safety.”

Keenan continued, “I’m not aware of anyone that supports a person who’s been involuntarily” hospitalized having a gun.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Braves employee who lost vision honored with Walter Banks award
Braves employee who lost vision honored with Walter Banks award

The Atlanta Braves named Katie Hearn the 2018 Walter Banks Award recipient in a pregame ceremony this week. The award is given annually to a game day staff member who exemplifies extraordinary customer service in the mold of longtime Braves employee, Walter Banks, who is closing out his 53rd Braves season.   Hearn has been a member of the Braves...
UGA soccer player from Johns Creek named SEC Freshman of the Week
UGA soccer player from Johns Creek named SEC Freshman of the Week

Emory Wegener might be listed on the University of Georgia’s women’s soccer roster at just 5-foot-7, but she plays a big game. A native of Johns Creek and a graduate of St. Pius X Catholic, Wegener was named SEC Freshman of the Week for her recent play as the Bulldogs’ goalkeeper. In a win over Arkansas last Thursday, her first...
Attention gardeners: There’s a free composting workshop in Alpharetta
Attention gardeners: There’s a free composting workshop in Alpharetta

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to turn leftover food and stuff in your yard into something folks with green thumbs call “Black Gold,” here’s your chance. On Sept. 26 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. the city of Alpharetta and its natural resources commission will be hosting a free class about composting. The class will be held at the...
Contractor arrested in alleged rape of employee at Atlanta airport
Contractor arrested in alleged rape of employee at Atlanta airport

An airport contractor was arrested at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after another contract employee accused him of sexually assaulting her during her shift. Eddie Sanders, 47, of Stone Mountain, was taken into custody at the airport on a charge of rape after the employee notified Atlanta police about the alleged attack early Tuesday morning...
Dunwoody Police join Yellow Dot safety program
Dunwoody Police join Yellow Dot safety program

The Dunwoody Police Department has introduced the Yellow Dot program to the community, according to a press release. Yellow Dot is a free program designed to help first responders provide life-saving medical attention during the first “golden hour” after a crash or other emergency. The Yellow Dot program will help first responders understand...
More Stories