The Firearms Safety Act rarely gets a hearing in the GOP-controlled Georgia legislature

A Georgia House subcommittee heard testimony on a bill aimed at punishing gun owners who negligently allow firearms to get into the hands of unsupervised children.

The bill, authored by Johns Creek House Representative Michelle Au, isn’t moving forward this year, but Au said it’s a win for herself, the Republican-led Public Safety and Homeland Security Subcommittee 2-A heard at the Georgia House.

“Gun safety laws are traditionally not heard in the Georgia state legislature, so having a hearing at all is a great first step,” she said. “So I really give a lot of credit to Chairman (Steven) Sainz and Chairman (J.) Collins for giving us this hearing and this time because they didn’t have to.”

House Bill 161 would make it a crime for a gun to get into the hands of an unsupervised child. If it became law, allowing a child access to a gun if the child shoots it and injures or kills someone would be a serious and serious offense, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.

There would be exceptions even if the child was supervised by an adult when hunting or target shooting, if the child stole the gun in a robbery, or if the child shot someone in lawful self-defense.

Au, a doctor, cited a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found firearms were the #1 killer of children and adolescents in 2020. She said 23 states have similar laws, citing research that suggests requiring safekeeping could reduce juvenile shooting deaths by more than 50%.

Au compared the bill to Georgia’s car seat laws, which she said save young lives without the hassle of enforcement.

“The specifics of car seat laws are ingrained in parents,” she said. “You don’t leave the hospital with a newborn, as many of us know, without proving you have an appropriate car seat when you take them to the hospital. At every single Well Child Check you visit with a pediatrician we discuss and reinforce vehicle safety and the law and if an adult is observed driving with an unsecured child and not in a car seat or inadequately secured they will be stopped and quoted.”

“What HB 161 would do is clearly define the parameters of safekeeping and recreate that culture of gun safety where such safekeeping practices are the norm,” she added. “And so we can more easily teach runaways what responsible gun ownership looks like.”

The hearing became emotional at times as doctors and family members spoke of people killed by guns. dr Sofia Chaudhary, a children’s emergency room physician in Atlanta, said she has seen countless children killed or maimed by improperly stored guns. She described one such incident:

“I will never forget his mother’s screams,” she said. “I’ll never forget her collapsing while holding on to a small, bloodstained hand. As the mother of a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl, I often think of this beautiful curly-haired little boy and how his family’s lives changed in just a few moments. And it only takes a few moments for a young child to find an unlocked gun in a drawer, under the bed, or in a closet, even with parents nearby, which is not an uncommon occurrence.”

According to Chaudhary, 244 children died from a gun in Georgia in 2021.

Most of the dozen or so speakers supported the bill, but two did not, including Alex Dorr, political director for advocacy at Georgia Gun Owners.

Dorr said arranging lockers or trigger guards in a home invasion scenario could waste valuable time.

“Glass is shattered when an armed thug breaks into your home intent on rape, robbery and murder,” he said. “Now with HB 161 you have to deal with your wife screaming, your kids coming out of the room asking what’s going on, you having to find your way through the darkness to your gun safe, memorizing the code – not typing the wrong one.” , mine takes 5 seconds to reset – or find the key, open your safe, find your gun, load your gun, all in total darkness while that armed thug has invaded your home.”

“If you’re like most law-abiding Georgians, you’d probably just reach over and grab your pistol — or, in my case, my AR pistol with a stuffed pistol mount,” he added. “I will do what must be done to defend my family.”

Dorr said he was speaking on behalf of “our tens of thousands of members across the state who have delegated me to come here today to tell you how stupid HB 161 is.”

Claudia Fruin, a retired pediatrician who said she became a gun safety advocate after the Sandy Hook shooting, said Dorr doesn’t speak for gun owners like her.

“Half of Georgians own guns, but they may not admit it,” she said. “Maybe they won’t admit it, because nowadays being a true gun owner means having an arsenal or an assault rifle or screaming at the top of your lungs about your right to carry guns. and you can spread false rumors that your guns will be confiscated if security measures are passed, but that news is not the reality of most gun owners. Most of us believe in safekeeping laws whether we have one gun or whether we have a hundred guns, whether we are Republicans or Democrats.”

Dorr did not agree.

“GGO will certainly expose anyone who supports this bill, and that goes double for any Republicans who betray us, but I’m very confident that’s not the case here today,” he said.

Dorr needn’t have worried.

Savannah Republican Rep. Jesse Petrea said he appreciated the conversation but would rather focus on fighting crime.

Rep. Jesse Petrea. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

“The real problem with death and misery in our community is violent criminals who keep taking to the streets,” he said. “That’s why our people in this state suffer at the hands of violent men. And every time we try to hold them accountable here in this body, the other side votes no, and I can’t help but understand that. So I would be happy if we tackled all of these issues, especially the exponentially more problematic one.”

Public Safety and Homeland Security Chairman J. Collins, a Republican from Villa Rica, thanked attendees for their engagement but did not support the bill.

“I don’t think this law is the solution to many of the problems that we see,” he said. “I think the answer to solving the problems we see and face is having conversations like this and trying to cultivate the common ground that we all have and that is safety for our children and the security of our communities. While I simply gave this bill a hearing, obviously this bill isn’t going to move forward, it’s after crossover day, but I wanted to have a conversation and allow (the speakers) to introduce the committee and start the conversation. ”

After the hearing, Collins said threats of retaliation from gun lobbyists like Dorr played no role in his decisions.

“I appreciate the opinions that have been thrown out and voiced, it’s very important for the legislative process,” he said. “As far as I’m being threatened because I’m looking at the safety of our state and the safety of children, I’m not really concerned.”

Au also said she looks forward to continuing the conversation and isn’t concerned about the gun lobby influencing her Republican counterparts.

“If you look at the national polls, you can see that gun safety is a tremendously important issue for most people, and the vast majority of Americans across the country are genuinely interested in gun safety legislation,” she said. “So this threat that people who support gun protection legislation will lose their elections is not confirmed in the data and it was not confirmed in the recent election. So you can certainly try, but people can make their own decisions about who they vote for and they can listen to both sides of the argument and I think our side of the argument was very reasonable and reasonable.”