Senate lawmakers backed a bill that does away with the need for a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public.

The “Georgia Constitutional Carry Act” or Senate Bill 319 passed the chamber 34 -22, along a party-line vote, with the Republican majority in favor.

Proponents said that the bill simply does away with extra paperwork for individuals who are already legally able to carry a handgun. Georgians would be allowed to conceal their legally purchased firearm in public without going through the process of obtaining a license from the state.

Dallas Republican Sen. Jason Anavitarte, the bill’s sponsor, said that as a response to the rise in violent crime Georgians have an increased interest in purchasing a firearm to protect themselves.

“This law is strictly intended to remove an unnecessary burden from law-abiding Georgians,” he said. “...What everyone in this chamber needs to understand is this: The growing response by law-abiding constituents to hearing these terrible stories is to go buy a gun and protect themselves. They want to protect themselves from the criminals who are committing the crimes.”

Under the bill, any “lawful weapons carrier” could carry a concealed firearm without first going through the licensing process that usually requires a fingerprint, background check and a fee.

The bill defines a “lawful weapons carrier” as “any person who is not prohibited by law” from carrying a weapon — excluding Georgians with prior drug convictions, felony convictions or charges and those treated for mental health or substance abuse issues within five years.

The measure is also known as “constitutional carry,” which Gov. Brian Kemp vowed he would push to enact this session as part of a flurry of conservative proposals to curry favor with far-right voters.

Democratic opponents said the measure would lead to more gun-related deaths and proposed an amendment to add background check requirements for private gun sales. But the change was voted down by Republicans.

Johns Creek Democrat Sen. Michele Au offered the amendment and argued that it closes a loophole created by the bill that may allow some to carry concealed firearms who are not legally allowed to own them.

“I think that we can agree that a background check at the point of sale serves as a pretty good filter to make sure that the people who buy guns are responsible, safe and law-abiding gun owners,” she said.

Lawmakers spent hours debating the bill which, after passage, now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Atlanta Democrat Elena Parent slammed her Republican colleagues for pushing ultra-conservative bills to cater to their voter base. 

“This year we have a tough primary for a sitting Republican governor and, sadly, that seems to appear advancing a whole slew of red-meat issues, cultural wedge issues and, in the case of this bill, advancing the dangerous agenda of extremist gun groups, she said. 

Parent cited a statistic that the Council of Probate Court Judges had denied more than 5,000 requests for concealed carry permits last year — most commonly for prior criminal convictions.

But Republicans asserted that the bill rolls back an infringement on Georgians' constitutional right to carry a handgun.

Dalton Republican Sen. Chuck Payne told the story of a camping trip with his family when four gentlemen approached them in eastern Georgia. He flashed a pistol to deter the group, but he wondered if he couldn’t afford the permit: “what would have been the outcome that day?”

“It's just me, my wife and our two kids out in the middle of no man's land," he said. "And the fact that I could just inadvertently pull my shirt up to reach back to my back pocket to let them see that I had my pistol on my belt, their tone changed."


An earlier version of this story said Sen. Elena Parent cited a statistic that the Council of Superior Court Judges had denied more than 5,000 requests for concealed carry permits last year. It was actually the Council of Probate Court Judges.