Report: Georgia courts rarely notify state of gun permit holder convictions
Gun owners who are convicted of a felony lose their eligibility for a Georgia carry permit, and the courts must notify the state that this person can't legally carry a firearm anymore.
That's a little-known amendment to Georgia's "guns everywhere" law that is supposed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
But The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found that metro Atlanta courts almost never file such reports. Fulton County Probate Court has sent two "revocations" to the state since July; DeKalb's Probate Court also has filed two. Statewide, only 21 of 159 counties filed any revocations at all. The AJC also found that, even if such reports were filed to the GBI, that agency has no database or other computer file where the records would be stored.
The "guns everywhere" law, known properly as the 2014 Safe Carry Protection Act, enabled Georgians to take guns into a wide range of new places, including bars, churches and many government buildings. The law was amended last year to add a reporting provision:
- State and superior court judges are supposed to ask someone convicted of a felony in their court whether he or she has a Georgia carry permit.
- If the answer is yes, the judge must then notify the probate judge where the defendant lives. (Probate judges issue carry permits and can revoke them.)
- The probate judge, in turn, is required to notify the GBI.
But the GBI does not have a database of such information; in fact, the "guns everywhere" law says that no "multijurisdictional" agency (like the GBI) may maintain a database of carry permit holders.
The law took effect July 1. It's possible that in some small counties, no gun owners have been convicted of felonies in the enusuing nine months.
"I've not had one in Emanuel County," said Probate Court Judge Don Wilkes, president of the Georgia Council of Probate Court Judges. "We just might not have anyone convicted who (had) a weapons carry permit."
Cobb County was at the top of the list of probate courts that have sent notices of revoked gun carry permits since July 1. It filed eight.
"We get fairly consistent notices from our superior and state (courts) but mostly superior court," said Cobb County Probate Court Judge Kelli Wolk. "We're not doing a ton. Maybe four or five (revocations) a month." But four or five a month would amount to between 36 and 45 since July 1.
Gwinnett County reported the second most revoked carry permits, five. Fulton County Probate Court notified the GBI that carry permits for two people had been revoked in the past nine months.
"We do the notices that we are required to do," said Fulton Probate Court Judge Pinkie Toomer. "If we are required to give somebody notice, we do."
Since there is no central registry of gun permit holders -- those records are kept on paper at the respective Probate Courts -- sentencing judges say they have to rely on the honor system.
"When you ask a convicted felon if they have a carry permit, you're relying on their truthfulness.. A more effective way of determining if individuals are now disqualified from possession of a carry license might be to have some form of central registry of those licenses so comparisons can be done," said Western Circuit (Clarke and Oconee counties) Superior Court Judge David Sweat, who is chairman of the committee that is crafting guidelines for Superior Court judges to make the reports to the local probate judge.
The notifications usually come to GBI's Georgia Crime Information Center on paper, not electronically.
"That's by design," said Wilkes, the Emanuel County probate judge.
Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, who sponsored the so-called "guns everywhere law" that also contains the reporting mandate, said he pushed to add the requirement because "we're just trying to make sure that a felon could not get a weapon."
Kathryn Grant, Southeast director of the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus and a member of the coalition GunSense Georgia, said this is an example of a law that doesn't address the problem.
"Why is this provision . not being adhered to," Grant asked. "What is the motivation behind that? Clearly this reporting system isn't working."
The revocation notices are filed away in a drawer, never being added to the GCIC data base because Georgia law prohibits any kind of central record-keeping.
Creating a gun data base, of any kind, is a sensitive topic for gun rights advocates who say that information would make the confiscation of firearms possible.
"There's no reason that I know of to create another database," Jasperse said.
State and federal laws prohibit gun possession -- as well as issuing carry permits -- to people convicted of felonies, some drug crimes and misdemeanor domestic violence; the ban also extends to people who are the subject of a judge's protective order.
Georgia, South Dakota and Colorado are the only states that specifically prohibit a gun permit carrier database or any record of gun ownership, while 26 states have laws specifically calling for a registry of those with permits, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for gun safety and prevention of gun violence. The laws in the remaining states are silent in regard to permit databases. Federal agencies also are prohibited from maintaining a database of gun ownership. Records of gun sales are kept only by the businesses that sells them.
Ted Alcorn, research director at Everytown for Gun Safety, said Georgia's law is part of an effort to restrict information around firearms crime and unlawful possession. It is really emblematic of actions pursued by the gun lobby across the state across the past few decades."