New law makes it easier to legally carry weapons


A new Georgia law has loosened the requirements for carrying firearms in public, and has increased interest in concealed-carry weapons permits within the state.

Once a person has a concealed-carry weapons permit, they are able to legally carry a firearm or knife concealed on their person in public or keep them out of plain sight in their vehicles.

Previously, Georgia law prohibited the carrying of weapons in public, unless the gun was holstered and clearly visible to others. Anyone who wanted to carry a weapon concealed in their clothing, in a handbag or purse, attache case or brief case was required to have a concealed-carry permit and also holster the weapon.

A new law passed in 2011 allows anyone with a “Georgia Weapons Carry License” to also conceal it on their person, with no further permitting necessary. Those without a carry license can carry weapons, provided that they are enclosed in a case and unloaded.

No weapons carry license is necessary for a person to carry a weapon or long gun on their own property, inside their vehicle or inside their place of business. Loaded long guns must be carried in an open and fully exposed manner.

Under the new law, a person with a valid weapons carry license can carry it in all state parks, historic sites or recreational areas, including in buildings located in those areas.

People with licenses can also carry weapons in public places except for those specifically prohibited. However, private property owners or people in charge of those properties can forbid possession of weapons on their property.

Prohibited areas where guns are not allowed include state, federal or local government buildings, in a courthouse, in a jail or prison or in general, any public parking garage.

Weapons cannot be carried on the campuses of any public or private elementary or secondary schools, nor on the campuses of any public or private technical school, vocational school, college or university.

Guns are also prohibited in a place of worship or a bar, unless the church’s leaders or the bar’s owner permits the carrying of weapons or long guns by people with carry licenses.

In the event they unintentionally violate Georgia’s weapon carry laws, people with valid carry licenses are only guilty of a misdemeanor, while people without a license can be found guilty of a felony and face fines and prison time.

People with valid hunting licenses, but who don’t have weapons carry licenses, can legally carry firearms on their person as long as they are actively going hunting with the permission of a property owner.

The process

To qualify for a concealed weapons permit, people must be 21 years of age, and have a clean criminal and mental history. They must also be a U.S. citizen and a resident of the state where they are applying for a permit.

People interested in getting a permit in Decatur County must fill out an application at the Probate Court Judge’s office, located in the newer section of the County Courthouse in Bainbridge.

A fee of $72.25, payable either by a cashier’s check or a money order, must be paid to the Probate Court. The fee covers the application charge of $30, plus a $5 charge for fingerprinting and a $37.25 fee charge for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to conduct a criminal history background check.

Applicants also have to get their picture taken, as the concealed carry permit essentially looks like a driver’s license, said Probate Court Clerk Yvonne Jenkins.

Once the application is complete, the applicant then goes to the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office on Spring Creek Road on the same day, to be fingerprinted for a background check.

The Sheriff’s Office then returns the results of the background check to the Probate Court, and if everything checks out okay, the Probate Judge signs off on the license. The information and picture are then sent off to be printed and several days later, the concealed carry license is available for pickup, Jenkins said.

The Probate Court office then calls the applicant, or a person the applicant has designated beforehand, to pick up the license.

“Typically, it takes about 10-15 days from the time a person applies for a license for them to be able to pick it up,” Jenkins said.

Georgia weapons carry licenses are good for five years.

Practice makes perfect

Investigator Redell Walton of the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office, who also works part-time at Southern Trading Company in Bainbridge, said advantages of taking a firearms course include: learning how to properly clean a gun, safely load and unload it and to become comfortable with the characteristics of different types of firearms.

“There are people who go into a store to buy their first gun, and without a course on how to use it, they end up being nervous about handling it and so it sits in a closet,” Walton said. “After taking a class and getting some practice, they become more familiar with their gun — it becomes more enjoyable to do target practice and go hunting.”

Ronnie Boyce, the co-owner of Southern Legends Plantation, is a National Rifle Association certified instructor and teaches basic firearms courses at the plantation in southern Decatur County. It’s an eight-hour course that starts in the classroom and ends with training on the plantation’s pistol range.

The course meets the requirements of Florida’s concealed carry permit law, but can also be taken by residents of other states who just want to become more familiar with firearms.

“The course is designed so that someone with no knowledge of a gun can learn what they’re about,” Boyce said. “I want to make sure everyone understands how to be safe with their weapon.”

After Boyce goes over safety topics in the classroom, class participants take a 50-question written test they must pass before they are allowed to shoot on the pistol range. Boyce helps first-timers become comfortable with holding and firing their weapon and then after finishing a basic aiming test, they get a certificate.

“After taking the basic pistol class, people will be fairly efficient with their weapon, but not necessarily proficient,” Boyce said. “So I encourage people to practice shooting their gun after the class ends.”

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