Sponsored content

As parents and children are preparing to go back to school and classes are back in person after a year online, questions about gun safety and the approval of gun licenses have come to the fore again. With the number of dangerous incidents caused by a mentally ill person with a gun, lawyers, judges and concerned citizens are grappling with the gun license approval process more than ever. In Macon, a gunman who was going through a mental episode had an hour-long argument with the police just last month. Although no one was injured, the timeliness of this incident further questions whether current Georgia gun laws are sufficient to prevent individuals with mental disorders from acquiring a firearm.

Here are all of the relevant state and state requirements for buying and carrying a gun in Georgia, along with the reasons a person may be prohibited from obtaining a gun license.

Prevention of gun licenses

As a probate judge for Bibb County, Sarah Harriss’s job is to see who can and cannot get a gun license. She explains that while all judges interpret cases differently, federal and state laws don’t give them much leeway. While there are undoubtedly many complex cases for Judge Harris to go through, the gun license laws are very black and white and take much of the decision-making process away from her.

Nationwide, a person is automatically excluded from receiving a firearm if they have been convicted or are currently charged with a crime, have an active arrest warrant, or a judge decides that they need comprehensive psychological treatment. Judge Harris states that her ability to determine whether a person needs comprehensive mental health care is the most important way for her to implement her interpretation in a case, as the other two requirements are very simple. Judge Harris also claims that while federal gun laws are relatively rigid, Georgia gun laws are far more lenient, further complicating the process as some gun license applicants meet state requirements but not federal requirements.

Judge Harris claims that the only way the state can permanently bar a person from obtaining a gun license is through an extensive process triggered by a decision by a judge. However, these cases are rare and only used in cases with extreme mental health problems.

Approval of the gun license

In Georgia, all you need to do to get a gun license is pass a background test and mental health assessment. While this may seem pretty trite, even if a person fails their mental health assessment and is ordered by the court to complete mental health treatment, they can apply for a gun license again in five years. Georgia state law allows the courts to remove a failed mental health assessment from their files after five years. Unless the person was arrested by the courts or a loved one, the state would not know their condition if they applied for a gun license five years later.

The root of the problem

Ultimately, Judge Harris and many other lawyers believe that while there are loopholes for people with mental health problems to obtain a gun license, the real problem stems from the mental health system. Many people mistakenly believe that committing a mentally ill person is much easier than it actually is. To sign someone who matters to you, you have to go through a tedious process that a hospital creates and approves. Another major concern is that current mental health laws do not address patients who have been prescribed drugs but are not taking them. A similar problem arises when patients who have taken their medication decide to stop treatment. Regardless of whether their family is informed and concerned, the legal system cannot do anything until the person falls apart.

“While the legal system typically tries to protect people from harm, not much can be done when the laws on the books lag behind our current problems,” said Yates & Wheland attorney John Dixon. “Mental health has become a growing problem in recent years, but the reality is that our legal system still has room for improvement to ensure we can respond appropriately to those who may face mental health problems.”

As a result, Harris and other heads of state are currently working to amend some of Georgia’s mental health laws. Judge Harris is optimistic that real change can be achieved in the future, as current mental health laws are inadequate to prevent unwell Americans from getting a gun license.