Gun ownership is a Controversial Topic
Gun ownership is a controversial topic in today’s news. Every state observes different licensing requirements for carrying a firearm, many of which are independent of federal laws concerning the purchase, possession, transportation, and use of handguns and long guns (rifles and shotguns). Many states either ban the carrying of firearms in public outright, or strongly regulate their use in public spaces. Recently, however, some states— Georgia in particular— have loosened restrictions on lawful carry, returning to the law more closely to the true spirit of the Second Amendment when it was ratified in 1791. But even relaxed restrictions on lawful carry do not exclude firearms completely from state and federal regulations.
Georgia law allows the carry of a firearm without a license in limited situations and only to certain individuals. Georgia code section 16-11-126 governs possession of both handguns and long guns without a Weapons Carry License. The law provides various locations and situations where possession of a handgun or long gun is permissible in Georgia without a valid Weapons Carry License.
1. Personal property and habitation
Under O.C.G.A. §16-11-126(a), any person “not prohibited by law” from possessing either a handgun or long gun (both rifles and shotguns) may carry a weapon or long gun without a Weapons Carry License on his or her property, as well as in the three locations state law identifies as a “habitation,” or place a person “inhabits”: the home, place of business, and personal motor vehicle. On your own property, or within these areas, you may carry without a valid Weapons Carry License.
But who is “not prohibited by law?” Convicted felons, probationers sentenced under Georgia’s First Offender Act (allowing a “discharge” and acquittal of felony charges for a first-time felony offender following completed probation), juveniles, and anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence are prohibited by federal and state law from possessing firearms. Juveniles will “age out” of the prohibition on possession of a handgun at the age of 18 (O.C.G.A. § 16-11-132 contains exceptions that permit a juvenile to possess a handgun), but First Offender probationers may only regain the right to possess firearms after the completion of probation and discharge of their case, while felons and those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors must petition to have their rights restored to once again possess a firearm.
2. Long guns: loaded and unloaded
O.C.G.A. § 16-11-126(b) describes the manner in which a long gun (either a rifle or shotgun) may be carried without a valid Weapons Carry License. So long as a citizen is not among those four groups previously discussed who are prohibited from possessing rearms, he or she may carry the firearm in any authorized location without a Weapons Carry License, either openly or concealed, so long as it is unloaded; if the firearm is loaded, it must be carried openly and in a “fully exposed manner.”
3. Firearms enclosed in a case and unloaded
Under subsection (c) of O.C.G.A. § 16-11-126, any person not prohibited from possessing a firearm, as in the previous subsections, may carry a handgun, provided it is unloaded and placed in a protective case.
4. Private passenger motor vehicles
Georgia House Bill 60, the 2014 change in gun laws known as the “Safe Carry Protection Act,” made changes to the then-existing law that both expanded a gun owner’s rights to carry, and at the same time protected private property owners who do not wish to have firearms on their property. This specific subsection of the unlicensed carry statute, allowing for carry without a license in any private passenger motor vehicle, was just one of the many areas of firearms laws impacted with the passage of House Bill 60. Under O.C.G.A. § 16-11-126(d), any person not prohibited by law from possessing a firearm—just as in the examples above— but who is also eligible for a Weapons Carry License, may transport a handgun or long gun in any private passenger motor vehicle, either belonging to the individual possessing the firearm, or to any other member of society. The vehicle’s owner (“private property owners or persons in legal control of private property,” which in this case is the car) has the right to exclude or eject a person from their car who is in possession of a firearm. It is a powerful tool, meant to balance the Second Amendment rights of gun owners with the privacy and control rights of property owners. This rule, however, does not just apply to vehicles: “private property” can be construed to mean real property (real estate, plots of land), residences, and businesses. Should a citizen in possession of a firearm while riding in another’s car, or eating in another’s restaurant, be asked to leave because of the presence of a weapon, he or she must do so; failure to leave will constitute grounds for arrest under Georgia’s criminal trespass statute, O.C.G.A. § 16-7-21.
5. Hunting or Fishing
Any person with a valid hunting or fishing license in his or her possession while legally hunting, fishing, or sport shooting with permission of the landowner may carry a rearm—handgun, rifle, or shotgun—without a Weapons Carry License. Any person not required by law to obtain a hunting or fishing license may also carry without a Weapons Carry License, so long as he or she falls within a valid exception to the hunting or fishing license requirement.
Absent these exceptions, no person may carry a weapon without a valid Weapons Carry License; to do so is a misdemeanor in Georgia, punishable as a first offense by as many as twelve months in custody and a $1000 fine. A second offense within five years (measured from the dates of arrest in cases where convictions were obtained) is a felony, with a minimum sentence of two years in prison, a maximum of five years.
Legal advice from an experienced attorney is vital in any scenario where you may be found to have carried a firearm in violation of the law. Kilgo Law can assist you, with attorneys who have the experience of handling gun-related cases. We examine the issues of your case thoroughly and clearly explain the various options available to you. Contact us today if you are facing any gun-related charges.