Georgia’s new weapons law – what is it, how does it affect you?

Alpharetta Police respond to questions

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ATLANTA – On April 23, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law House Bill 60, otherwise known as the “Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014.” This is undoubtedly one of the most sweeping firearms legislation changes in Georgia to date.

H.B. 60 was passed with strong majorities in both the House and the Senate, and will take effect July 1.

The day prior to the bill being signed, a Georgia firearms permit holder was observed with an exposed holstered pistol in a Forsyth County park. The park contained a large number of children participating in sporting events as well as their parents and guests.

Although the permit holder was exercising his legal right to carry a firearm in a county park and not found to be doing anything illegal, the confusion surrounding his actions generated a great deal of concern by community members and others routinely attending park events.

The recent changes in firearms legislation brought about by H.B. 60 will affect how law enforcement professionals interact with people choosing to exercise their right to legally carry firearms and other weapons in public places, including our city parks and recreational facilities. We hope to address some common questions and misconceptions about current firearms legislation and the recent changes brought about by H.B. 60, with specific emphasis on legislative aspects directly affecting Alpharetta parks and recreation users.

What is a Georgia weapons carry license?

In general, to carry a handgun either openly or concealed in Georgia (other than on their property or inside their home, car or place of business), or a knife designed for offense and defense with a blade length of over 5 inches, a person must possess a valid Georgia weapons carry license. There are exceptions, such as for exempt people employed as peace officers, district attorneys, judges, wardens and people in the military service of the state or of the United States.

What if I possess a weapons carry license or permit from another state?

Georgia law also recognizes the weapons licenses of Georgia non-residents for which Georgia has a reciprocal relationship with their home state. These weapons license permit holders must abide by the weapons laws of Georgia when they are in Georgia.

Can someone with a weapons license walk around Alpharetta parks or recreational areas with an openly carried firearm?

Georgia law does not prohibit weapons license holders from possessing firearms or other weapons in city or county parks.

Provided that they are not engaged in some other illegal activity within the park, a person with a weapons license can visit an Alpharetta park while exercising their right to bear arms in either an open or concealed fashion.

Isn’t a person with a weapons license supposed to carry their weapon in a holster, concealed from view? Especially in a public park where there may be children present?

In Georgia, weapons license holders may carry any weapon openly or concealed in any non-prohibited location in accordance with Georgia law.

Although it is a good idea to do so, there is no legal requirement for weapons to be carried in any type of holster.

Suppose I see an openly armed person walking along a trail at Webb Bridge Park. Since I have no idea if they have a weapons license, or whether they are a convicted felon, can I request that the police respond to check this person out?

It goes without saying that the safety and security of Alpharetta residents and visitors is of paramount concern to us. That being understood, Georgia law maintains that law-abiding Georgia residents and non-residents possessing weapons licenses have the right to freely visit locations in our state, while armed, that are not deemed off-limits by state or federal law.

While the law clearly states that weapons license holders shall have their valid weapons carry license in their immediate possession at all times when carrying a weapon, this does not mean that law enforcement can detain an armed person (such that they are not free to leave) simply to check whether they are in compliance with this requirement.

Outside of a voluntary casual conversation between the officer and the armed person, the officer must have reasonable articulable suspicion, based on more than just the simple possession of the firearm.

If an officer finds no reasonable suspicion of illegal activity, then outside of a voluntary conversation with the individual, there is very little that an officer can compel a law-abiding armed person to do.

Can people walk around with loaded rifles and shotguns in city parks when there are lots of people around?

If a person is not prohibited by law from possessing a firearm, such as a convicted felon, they may carry a long gun (like a rifle or shotgun) in locations that are not off-limits, such as public parks.

The big difference here is that you do not have to have any kind of permit or license to carry a long gun as long as you are not prohibited from owning a firearm.

Let’s say I see an armed person sitting on a bench at the park who is cursing and yelling obscenities at each passerby. Every now and then, I see him remove a small gun from his pocket and then put it away again, but does not point it at anyone. In light of the new firearms laws, what can the police do about this individual?

The new firearm legislation does nothing to limit law enforcement’s ability to detain and investigate armed persons for which they have reasonable suspicion that these persons have been, currently are or are about to engage in illegal activity.

In this particular example, if officers find reasonable articulable suspicion that this armed person has been acting in a disorderly fashion or they witness his disorderly behavior, Georgia law permits us to detain this person to investigate them further.

This investigation would include, amongst other aspects, a check of the person’s identity and warrant status, as well as their eligibility to possess a firearm and whether they have a weapons carry license in their immediate possession.

Officers will also determine whether probable cause exists indicating that this person has violated one or more criminal laws, and if so, determine whether an arrest should occur.

RN 05-15-14