Georgia Is Not the Jungle

by Charles C. W. Cooke
No, E. J. Dionne, Georgia’s new gun laws will not condemn us to a Hobbesian nightmare.

The Washington Post’s favorite pantywaist, E. J. Dionne, is worried again — this time about the “gun supremacists” down in Georgia, where the people are “stark raving mad” and the laws are unique. “You might have thought that since the United States couldn’t possibly have more permissive firearms laws than it does now, nothing more could be done to coddle the gun lobby and tip the balance of our statutes away from law enforcement,” he griped yesterday. “Alas, you would be wrong.”

This idea has been echoed widely among those of a similarly authoritarian bent. Gabrielle Giffords’s anti-gun outfit described the measure as “the most extreme gun bill in America” and complained that it “moves Georgia out of the mainstream”; Michael Bloomberg’s rather sad new group, Everytown for Gun Safety, called it “unprecedented”; and the ever-hysterical David Frum vowed to “think twice about flying through Hartsfield.”

This is all very entertaining, of course. But is it true? Has Georgia really adopted unusual, groundbreaking laws? Has it really opened up a new front in the campaign for gun rights? Has it really moved “out of the mainstream”? Well, not really, no. A quick review of the facts reveals that it has merely brought itself into line with much of the rest of the country. And about time, too.

Let’s take Dionne’s objections one at a time:

You will . . . be able to tote weapons into bars and their parking facilities if the bar grants you permission. I can’t wait to see the next beer ad depicting a gunfight over who pays for the next round.

If individuals carrying their firearms into bars resulted inevitably in shootouts, we’d be seeing it already. We’re not. In every state except Louisiana and Montana, it is already legal for concealed-carry permit holders to take their firearms into restaurants that serve alcohol (Montana allows only open carry in restaurants serving alcohol). Only 16 states — Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma (to an extent), Texas, and Wyoming — explicitly prohibit people who are carrying from entering bars (the state of Indiana requires visitors to abide by the rules of their home state). Where are the stories of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp?

Notably, Dionne fails to mention that every single state in the Union has rules governing how much permit holders may drink while in possession of a firearm and that many states prohibit consumption at all. Funny, that.

You might not have thought that the inability of people to pack while praying was a big problem. Georgia’s political leaders think otherwise, so the new law allows people to carry guns in their houses of worship. True, congregations can set their own rules, but some pastors wonder about the confusion this provision will create, and those who would keep their sanctuaries gun-free may worry about being branded as liberal elitists.

If this isn’t a “big problem,” then it shouldn’t be something that the state is involved with at all, should it? Note that Georgia’s new law does not mandate carrying in church, but merely allows individual businesses and churches to establish their own rules. Before passage, it was illegal in Georgia for churches to allow their congregants to carry; now it is up to the churches. Without explaining why churches should be singled out, Dionne argues that this is a bad idea because “some pastors wonder about the confusion this provision will create.” I doubt that this wonderment is genuinely widespread, but, even if it were, clergy should rest assured that they have ample room to set their own standards. Currently, the country is split on what “no guns” signs mean in practice. In Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia, “no guns” notifications in businesses, private residences, and places of worship do not carry the force of law — which means that those who ignore them cannot be prosecuted purely for possession. In all other states, such signs are binding. Nevertheless, in every single state, the trespassing rules remain as they ever were. Literally nowhere in the United States are pastors prevented from asking those carrying firearms to leave, nor are they prohibited from inviting authorities to back up their request.

Inexplicably, having claimed that it’s outrageous to allow individual businesses and churches to make their own decisions, Dionne goes on to complain that:

while conservatives claim to hate the centralization of power, this law wipes out a series of local gun regulations. The gun supremacists just don’t trust those pesky local elected officials.

Actually, the law wipes out the regulations that prohibited those “pesky” individual business owners, libraries, school districts, and church leaders from setting their own guidelines. It is little short of astonishing that Dionne would attempt to characterize a state provision that leaves these questions up to each organization as destroying local variation when they do precisely the opposite: fracturing the regulations even further and expanding individual control. Had the state made it illegal for private businesses and local governments to prohibit firearms, he would have a point. It didn’t. He doesn’t.

People with a gun license who try to carry a weapon onto an airplane get a nice break under this bill. If they’re caught with a gun at a security checkpoint, nothing happens as long as they leave the area. Try, try again. Watch out if you connect through Atlanta.

For a start, if you “connect through Atlanta” then, by definition, 1) you’ll be safely on the other side of the security checkpoint, after which one is not allowed to carry a firearm; 2) you won’t have access to any firearms you’re transporting, because they’ll be checked; and 3) this provision doesn’t apply to you because you won’t be interacting with the TSA at all. Forget the silliness: All that this law does is prevent flyers who forget that they are carrying firearms — a common occurrence, according to the TSA — from being prosecuted. It does not allow travelers with firearms to take them through security. It does not exempt them from the usual checks. It does not give anyone “a break.”

Judging by his agitation, Dionne appears to believe that Georgia’s allowing permit holders to carry in airports is peculiar. It is not. Federal law prohibits firearms from being brought beyond the security checkpoints in all U.S. airports, but most states do not extend this rule to the common areas. At last count, only eleven states forbade visitors from bringing their guns into the non-secured areas in airport terminals: Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Virginia — most of which are known for their permissive gun laws and thriving gun cultures. In much more restrictive states such as California and Maryland — hell, in the entire Northeast — permit holders may carry their firearms right up until they reach the checkpoints.

And law and order goes out the window. As Niraj Chokshi noted in The Post, this statute gets rid of state requirements that firearms dealers maintain records of sales and purchases. Databases on license holders that span multiple jurisdictions are banned. Those who commit gun crimes must be chuckling, “Can you find me now?

Suffice it to say that the idea that “those who commit gun crimes” are filling in sales forms, undergoing federal and state background checks, and applying for concealed-carry licenses is risible. Nevertheless, like almost every other outlet that has addressed this issue, Dionne deliberately failed to inform his audience that the federal government will continue to record all sales and purchases — as it has done since 1968. Here, Georgia is merely removing the second layer of records, thus bringing itself into line with 31 other states. As it stands, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island require records of all gun sales to be kept, while Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, New York, North Carolina, Vermont, and Washington require records only of handgun sales to be archived. One might think that Georgia is unwise to stop the practice, but it is certainly not unusual. Has “law and order” gone out of the window elsewhere?

Georgia thinks you should be able to take guns into government buildings that don’t have screening devices or security guards. Second Amendment enthusiasts tend not to like tax increases, but as the Associated Press reported, the city of Vienna, Ga., (pop. 3,841) would have to shell out about $60,000 a year to increase security at city buildings. “Do we raise taxes to provide the police protection or do we take the risk of potential injury to our public?” asked Mayor Pro Tem Beth English, who also is president of the Georgia Municipal Association. Too bad if this gun lobby subsidy comes out of the school budget.

This makes sense only if you presume that 1) buildings without “screening devices or security guards” are at less risk if they put up a “gun-free zone” sign than if they don’t, which is absurd; that 2) allowing concealed-carry permit holders to go into government buildings makes those permit holders more likely to shoot up government buildings, which is absurd; and 3) that the only possible place from which the funds for such (unnecessary) guards could be taken is “the school budget” — which is absurd but, alas, typical. Which is to say that if Georgia’s government buildings have been safe up until this point, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that they won’t continue to be safe after this law has been implemented. This is emotional nonsense, nothing more and nothing less.

Over the last 25 years or so, the opponents of the right to bear arms have shown a remarkable willingness to behave as if every new law represented a return to the Hobbesian state of nature. It made some sense for the critics of concealed carry to forecast shootouts in the street in 1987, because there was little evidence either way as to what would happen if you trusted people to carry arms. Now such claims are preposterous. A couple of years ago, Illinois’s governor, Pat Quinn, reacted to the idea that his state might become the 50th to permit “private citizens to carry loaded concealed handguns in public places” with the prediction that Illinoisans who “bump into somebody accidentally” at “the grocery store” would “assuage their anger” with their weapons. He made this prognosis after 49 states had already demonstrated that such things simply do not happen, and after the gun-crime rate had fallen consistently for two decades. Those among us who would prefer that the various levels of American government base their firearms laws on reason rather than ignorant and overwrought emotion have a duty to ensure that the likes of Quinn are laughed at mercilessly for their delirium. E. J. Dionne may have a more respectable title than “Governor,” but, for his deeply misleading and willfully ignorant essay, he deserves precisely the same treatment.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.