In the past few years, there have been quite a few bills passed in Georgia, allowing for and confirming more rights like open carry. While firearms are used for criminal purposes, for most gun owners in the state, the main concern is when and where they can carry their gun. In addition, one of the most pressing matters is how to get a license, and if you even need one. Yes, violent offenses often make the news, but they are statistically few and far between.
Keeping up with all of Georgia’s gun laws can be confusing — and even intimidating. If you are charged with a gun crime in Atlanta, the best thing you can do is contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent you. The lawyers at Hawkins Spizman Fortas have decades of combined experience defending clients who have been accused of a gun crime, wrongfully or not. Trust us to craft a defense that will ensure the best possible outcome for your case.
Of course, the best way to avoid a conviction for a gun crime is to avoid accidentally breaking the law. Here is a brief overview of the gun laws in Georgia, as they stand in 2016.
CLASSIFICATIONS OF WEAPONS
One of the most important aspects of owning a firearm in Georgia is understanding what classification it falls into. Georgia Code Section 16-11-125.1 explains that a weapon is defined as any handgun or knife — a knife being any blade longer than 5 inches fastened to a handle and used for the intent of offense of defense. Firearms are divided into two classifications: handguns and long guns.
A handgun is any firearm from which ammunition can be shot and its barrel does not exceed 12 inches in length. However, it does not include any gun that shoots single shot ammunition of .46 centimeters in diameter or less. A long gun, on the other hand, has a barrel of at least 18 inches and an overall length of at least 26 inches. These guns are designed to be shot from the shoulder, with either shotgun shells or single slugs.
PURCHASING A FIREARM
Georgia has only two laws on the books that dictate the purchasing of a gun. All other regulations come from the federal government, specifically the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. This covers issues like 3D-printed guns, what counts as a relic gun, who can sell weapons and other topics. In addition, there are national laws that prevent certain people from owning firearms, namely those who have been convicted of a violent felony.
The two main laws that dictate purchasing a firearm in this state are Georgia Code Section 16-11-113 and 16-11-101.1. The first states that it is a felony to buy a gun on behalf of someone else. Attempting to persuade, bribe, encourage or otherwise entice a dealer to sell a gun to someone other than the actual buyer is a crime, as is someone who aids or abets that person. So, if you bought a gun for a friend who has a violent felony on their record, both of you could be charged with this crime.
Code Section 16-11-101.1 states that it is illegal to give or sell any handgun to a minor in most cases. However, parents and legal guardians can provide a handgun to their children, unless they know their child is likely to commit a crime with said gun. In such cases, the parents shall be guilty of a felony for supplying the firearm used in the crime. Said felony is punishable by 3 to 5 years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.
POSSESSION OF A FIREARM
Too often, “possession” of a firearm is thought to be synonymous with ownership of said firearm. However, these are two separate legal issues. If a person has control of a gun, they are usually said to be in possession of it. That being said, there are two main types of possession: actual and constructive. Actual possession is what it sounds like: having physical control of the weapon. So, having a gun in a holster on your hip is actual possession.
Constructive possession, on the other hand, means you have the power to have physical control later. For example, having guns in a locker at home is considered constructive possession. The reason this is important is that, if multiple people have constructive possession of a weapon, they may be considered guilty of a crime pertaining to said weapon, even if they did not physically control it. Some offenses, like robbery or some domestic crimes, are considered “aggravated” when a firearm is involved.
For the most part, if you are not engaging in unlawful activity, it is legal to possess a firearm. However, there are some exceptions:
- Felons who have been convicted of: any crime against or involving another person; trespassing; robbery/burglary; drug crimes; or any federal crimes (Georgia Code Section 16-11-133)
- Minors under 18 may possess possess a handgun only when: attending an educational or safety course; firing at a target range; participating in a qualifying organizational activity; hunting or fishing with a license; or has the permission of a parent, guardian or grandparent to handle a handgun on their property. Any minor who has been convicted of a felony is excluded from these exceptions. (Georgia Code Section 16-11-132)
- Possession of certain weapons is always illegal in Georgia. These include: sawed-off shotguns and rifles, machine guns, silencers and dangerous weapons — i.e., rocket launchers, recoilless rifles, mortars, grenades and other explosive weapons designed to kill large groups of people at once or to destroy heavy armor. (Georgia Code Section 16-11-123)
- It is illegal to possess or discharge any firearm while legally intoxicated under the influence of drugs or alcohol, even while hunting. This includes legal prescriptions. A good rule of thumb is: if it is illegal for you to drive in your condition, it is illegal for you to possess a firearm. However, it is wise to not pick up a gun if you have had any alcohol or potentially dangerous drugs. (Georgia Code Section 16-11-134)
REGISTRATION AND LICENSING OF FIREARMS
The state of Georgia does not require any registration of firearms. In fact, it’s outright illegal for local governments to require registration when gun owners apply for a firearms license. Licenses are rather simple as well. There are only two types in the state of Georgia. The first, laid out in Georgia Code Section 43-38-10, applies to armed guards who are employed by a security agency. This license allows security personnel to openly carry a firearm while on duty AND while performing their duty. Further, it only covers revolvers up to .357 magnum and semi-automatic guns up to .45 caliber.
The more common application, the Georgia Weapons Carry License, is dictated by Georgia Code 16-11-129. For most people, this license is enough to be allowed to carry their firearm, openly or concealed, in this state. As long as you pay the $30 fee, pass a background check and handle a few other small requirements, you will be granted a carry license for 5 years. However, there are certain groups of people who will be denied a carry license. These include:
- Anyone prohibited from possessing a firearm, as stated above. Even so, you are allowed to have a gun in your home, car and place of business.
- Anyone under the age of 21, unless the are at least 18 AND have received basic training in the Armed Forces, and are currently serving or have been honorably discharged.
- Anyone who has a felony case pending, or is a fugitive from the law.
- Anyone who has had their carrying license revoked in the past 3 years.
- Anyone who has been admitted to a mental hospital or alcohol/drug rehabilitation center in the past 5 years. Even after that time period, applicants may need to be approved by the facility and a judge in order to get a license.
WHERE AND WHEN YOU CAN AND CAN’T CARRY A WEAPON
This is perhaps the most important section of this entire page. Knowing when you can and can’t carry your firearm can keep you from behind bars. As mentioned above, you are permitted to have a gun in your home and vehicle without a license. This comes from Georgia’s “castle doctrine,” as stated in Code Section 16-3-23. You are allowed to use force, or threaten to do so, to prevent someone from entering your home. However, at least one of three requirements must be met:
- The entrance of the intruder is violent or tumultuous, and you believe they have intent to assault you or otherwise act violently;
- A person who is not a member of the household or your family forcibly and unlawfully enters your residence; or
- You have reason to believe the intruder plans to commit a felony, including burglary.
In addition, you may carry your weapon on most open, public areas. In addition, you may also carry your weapon onto private property — including bars — unless the owner or manager of the property prohibits it. The Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014 recently clarified further where a gun may be carried, specifically into “bars, churches, school zones, government buildings and certain parts of airports.” Even though the “Guns Everywhere Bill” passed, there are still many areas in which it is illegal to carry a gun.
- Government buildings: Guns may not be carried in a building in which a government entity is housed or meets in an officially meets. However, if the building does not have security personnel or other screening implementations, it is generally safe to assume you are allowed to carry a weapon on the premises. Public buildings like libraries are also not off-limits. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said that no guns will be admitted in city facilities
- It is also illegal to carry in a courthouse, prison, place of worship (unless explicitly stated otherwise), mental health facility or within 150 feet of a polling location during an election.
- School property: It is illegal for you to carry any kind of weapon, gun or otherwise, owned or leased by a public or private school, school board, college, university or other educational institution. However, if you are licensed to carry a firearm, you may do so when in your vehicle on school property or when picking up a student at the school or at a school function.
- Nuclear facility: Licensed or not, you cannot carry a deadly weapon of any kind at a nuclear power facility.
- Public transportation: Unless you are licensed to carry, you may not possess a deadly weapon on MARTA or any other public transportation. For nationwide railways (a.k.a. AMTRAK) or on an airplane, any firearm must be unloaded, locked in its case and checked in as luggage, separate from ammunition. In addition, you must declare the firearm. It is a federal offense to carry weapons past TSA checkpoints.
- Areas controlled by the Department of Natural Resources: Any state park, recreational area or historic site controlled by the government outlaws all weapons except for handguns possessed by those with carry licenses. This also includes wildlife management areas during closed hunting season.
- Primitive weapon season: Unless you have a carry license for a handgun, it is illegal to carry a weapon that’s not a bow and arrow while hunting during primitive weapon season for deer.
OTHER FIREARM LAWS
There are a few other laws regarding guns to be aware of. First is Georgia’s reciprocity law. What that means is, if another state honors Georgia’s gun license, we honor theirs as well. You can find a list of these states on the Georgia Department of Public Safety’s website. Secondly, it is illegal to point a gun, loaded or not, at another person unless doing so in defense of life, health and/or property (Georgia Code Section 16-11-102). It is also illegal to fire a gun within 50 years of a public road, unless in defense of life, health and/or property (Georgia Code Section 16-11-103). Finally, you may not fire a gun on someone else’s property, unless you have the permission of the landowner (Georgia Code Section 16-11-104).
REPRESENTATION FROM EXPERIENCED GUN CRIMES DEFENSE ATTORNEYS
As you can see, there are many laws regarding guns that you must follow as a lawful firearm owner and possessor. Luckily, many of these laws are punishable by a misdemeanor if broken. However, there are many instances in which you may be charged with a felony. In either case, your Second Amendment rights may be put in jeopardy if you are convicted. That’s why you need an experienced gun crime defense lawyer by your side. If you’re facing gun charges in Atlanta, contact Hawkins Spizman Fortas today at 770-651-0166 for a free consultation and case evaluation.