Credit: Georgia Health News
Mayors statewide urge governor and lawmakers to pass gun reform laws
Nearly four dozen mayors — from Adel in South Georgia to Dalton in North Georgia and cities in between — want stricter gun laws.
They sent a letter urging Gov. Brian Kemp and state lawmakers to help curb gun violence in their communities.
"We currently live with the reality that gun violence has become the No. 1 killer of children," they wrote. "Georgia has become a top exporter of illegal weapons. We come to you with this request because our residents rely upon us to be the front line of efforts to enhance their quality of life."
In the letter, the mayors — mostly Democrats — requested movement on several specific mental health and gun control policy measures.
"We're asking for continued enhancement of behavioral health supports," said Kelly Girtz, mayor of Athens-Clarke County andone of the 46 signers on the letter. "Those people who've been demonstrated to have a propensity for violence or self-harm can be prevented from accessing weapons."
In 2021, the General Assembly tackled expanding the state's mental health delivery system under the guidance of the late House Speaker David Ralston, but lawmakers did little to expand laws in 2022.
"I've sponsored a no-nonsense bill that would address a flaw in Georgia's criminal background system," Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City) said in response to the letter. "A patient who is involuntarily committed to a mental health hospital can have their record purged after five years without a doctor's evaluation to determine the current status of their mental health."
Buckner's bill has drawn little attention in the Republican-led legislature.
The letter also called for "a level playing field for background checks that includes all purchases and transfers."
Girtz said the checks should include "places like gun shows and online sales that are often escape routes for people who want to purchase weapons illegally."
So-called "red flag" laws seen in other states that aim to prevent people deemed dangerous to themselves or others from buying firearms have proved a hard sell in Georgia.
The mayors also want to stop sales of "high-capacity clips [with which] you can kill a lot of people quickly," Girtz said.
A final request in the letter is to require safe gun storage. Last legislative session, a bill on pediatric gun storage sponsored by state Rep. Michelle Au (D-Johns Creek) moved through a subcommittee hearing. Still, it needed to garner more votes to proceed further.
Au expressed support for the mayors' letter.
"In championing a multimodal slate of common sense gun safety bills — including [House Bill] 161, the Pediatric Health Safe Storage Act; HB 44, which extends background checks to cover all gun sales and transfers; and HB 45, which requires a 3-day waiting period for firearm purchases — these leaders recognize the importance of tempering rights with responsibility," Au said.
Girtz said the mayors will continue to push to tighten gun laws when the General Assembly begins meeting in January.