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Georgia legislators introduce package of bills seeking to enhance gun safety

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Georgia legislators introduce package of bills seeking to enhance gun safety

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) and other Democratic lawmakers have introduced a package of bills seeking to enhance gun safety and reduce gun violence, particularly among children. Lawmakers held a press conference on Monday, Feb. 13, at the state Capitol to discuss the legislation. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

This story has been updated.

Atlanta, GA — State Reps. Michelle Au (D-Johns Creek), Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), and State Senator Elena Parent (D-Senate District 42) have introduced a package of bills that seek to improve gun safety and reduce gun violence, particularly among children.

“…Gun violence is indeed a public health crisis,” Au said. “As of 2020, the No. 1 cause of death of children and teenagers in the United States is gun violence.” 

According to a study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, homicide is the leading cause of death for children in the U.S. The overall rate has increased by an average of 4.3% each year for about 10 years, CNN reported. From 1999 to 2020, 38,362 children were homicide victims in the country.

“The overall homicide rate had an especially ‘precipitous’ rise from 2019 to 2020, with rates increasing across several demographics, the study says. In that time period alone, the number of children who were killed in a homicide rose 27.7%. The marked increase may be partly driven by the general trend in firearm-related homicides of children, which rose 47.7% between 2019 and 2020, the study says,” according to CNN. 

In January, Rep. Sandra Scott (D-Rex), minority caucus chief deputy whip, introduced a House resolution “recognizing gun violence as a major public health problem and a leading cause of premature death.”

Lawmakers discussed the package of legislation, which includes House Bills 44, 45, 135, 161 and Senate Bill 75, during a press conference on Monday, Feb. 13, at the state Capitol. HB 135 and 161 aim to require firearms to be stored securely around minors, and would establish personal responsibility for gun owners if their gun is used to commit a crime. 

HB 44 and HB 45 would implement background checks and a three-day waiting period to purchase firearms.

HB 135 asks “are you responsible for your gun when it goes into the hands of a child and the public, or when your gun is used for a criminal act, are you responsible,” Oliver said. “House Bill 135 will set a standard of responsibility if you knew or should have known that your gun was available to a child in your house or your child’s friends and that child took your gun and left your house with and committed a crime.” 

“I suggest there’s a level of responsibility that we should discuss in a bipartisan way,” Oliver added.

She also added that of the issues before the General Assembly this year, the most partisan issue is gun safety. 

SB 75 would establish a criminal offense for making a firearm accessible to a child except under certain circumstances. The bill would allow for a person to be charged with criminal negligence if they have not secured a loaded firearm, or have left the gun in a place where a child could access it.

“Now that we’ve emerged from some of the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we face an extremely serious public health crisis of gun violence,” Parent said. “We can take these preventative measures today to save our families and communities without imposing any undue restrictions on those who own guns…” 

Oliver added that stories of children being shot after finding a loaded gun are “extremely common, and we have to send a strong message through our laws that that’s an act of criminal negligence.” 

Activists joined lawmakers during the press conference on Monday. Some were members of North Decatur Presbyterian Church. They plan to deliver 17-page letters to legislators asking them to create and support laws to reduce gun violence. The letters included 64 photos of Georgia residents killed in December 2022. 

“On the third Sunday of every month, our community at North Decatur Presbyterian sees not the statistics, but the actual faces, names and ages of the children, youth and adults who have died in our state from a bullet shot by a gun,” said church member Ellen Gadberry. “On the video screens in our sanctuary, right in the middle of our worship service, we gaze in mournful prayer at photographs of those killed as we read these names allow. We grieve loss of life. We grieve unrealized potential. We grieve with the brokenhearted, parents, siblings, families, communities.”

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