While many across the country have applauded the State of Georgia and Governor Nathan Deal for the newest legislation expanding and clarifying the existing gun rights of citizens, known as The Safe Carry Protection Act or House Bill 60, it has sparked controversy in the small rural area near where I live. The Covington News, a local paper serving the Newton County area in Georgia, recently published an article outlining the passage of the bill, the effect on local jurisdictions to include law enforcement and the rationale for the opposition of the law by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG).
Before this bill came to pass, the Newton County Commissioners had adopted a gun ordinance in 2013 at the behest of Sheriff Ezell Brown due to the number of calls received regarding the discharge of firearms within the county. It was learned through speaking with various individuals at a Newton County Commissioners meeting last year there was a problem with the reckless use of firearms occurring in a small area of the county where residents were known to be particularly disruptive and possibly violent.
Instead of addressing the issue, using current and existing ordinances, Sheriff Brown chose to recommend a new ordinance affecting the entire county. Under the new ordinance, Section III prohibits the discharge, or shooting, of a firearm where at least one of the conditions are applicable while Section II provides exemptions to the ordinance.
Interestingly enough, very few individuals in the county were aware of this new gun ordinance until a massive email from Campaign for Liberty informed subscribers of the county’s adoption of the ordinance. While most concerned over the new ordinance were mainly worried about the effects on hunting and voiced their opinion to no avail to prevent the adoption, it still passed.
One lone individual questioned the ordinance regarding Constitutionality begging to question who determines when the exemptions in Section II would apply at the meeting during open public comments on past business. This individual then questioned why law enforcement were not out in the troubled area using existing ordinances to “clean up” that section of the county considered dangerous. An interesting point brought up in the 3 minute response allowed involved the ability of law enforcement officers, along with the Sheriff, to discharge their duty and if officers were fearful in entering that particular section of the county, then maybe another line of work would be more suitable for them. According to the rules of the Commissioners, they would not comment on any citizen’s concern after the adoption of the ordinance.
The deputies of the Sheriff’s office could not even answer the question of who determines when the exemptions in Section II would apply in cases of calls reporting firearms discharges and are valid when asked by this one individual.
Now that Governor Deal has signed The Safe Carry Protection Act, county and municipal officials are anxious about law enforcement’s ability to ask an individual carrying a firearm for a license and about firearms now being allowed in certain municipal buildings where previously they were not. Consequently, the GMA and the ACCG are uneasy regarding the potential risk for litigation resulting in increased costs to the city if an aggrieved person felt the city or county violated state law regulations concerning firearms or weapons and the persons’ legal right to carry with a valid license. Some believe it is best left to the local jurisdiction to determine whether individuals with a valid license to carry a firearm should be allowed access to municipal buildings. According to the law, cities who do not want firearms in government buildings will have to install security screening devices.
The Newton County Judicial Center currently has security screening devices – including a metal detector, x-ray scanner and law enforcement presence – in place. However, the administration building where individuals pay taxes, renew car tags etc. and the Historic Courthouse where the county commissioners hold their meetings do not. While each is staffed with a sheriff’s office deputy, the cost of keeping individuals out who have valid firearms carry licenses would cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, if not one hundred thousand dollars to secure the two entrances at each location.
Newton County Commissioner Chairman Keith Ellis stated to the local paper that an evaluation period was ongoing to determine the repercussions if firearms were banned from the city and county public buildings but indicated there was not a definitive action on the table. While city and county officials wrestle with the new law, dubbed “the guns everywhere bill” by its opponents, mayors of smaller municipalities in the county have mixed reactions. Some are in favor of this new legislation while others are not.
Not surprisingly, Sheriff Ezell Brown took a particularly harsh stance regarding the language of the bill saying it negates the benefit of having a license. Georgia law provides for two valid carry licenses based on whether the individual intends to either open carry or conceal carry. That has not changed.
Sheriff Brown told the Covington News in an email, “If an officer cannot stop and investigate a person carrying a weapon on his or her person to establish whether they hold a valid weapon carrying license, then the very policy direction dictated by law makers to have such license boils down to a mute issue. Furthermore, the inability of officers to check licenses places them in a potential state of confusion, including concerns for personal and public safety when encountering an armed individual in the performance of one’s duty.”
According to Sheriff Brown, “This bill will potentially provide a green light for the increased presence of the (guns held by) untrained and unlicensed individuals, felons and individuals suffering with mental illness in our neighborhoods. It can also increase the number of victims in the most vulnerable places in our community, i.e., parks, churches, bars, public buildings and work places. All of these factors significantly impact the work of law enforcement.”
Lt. Paul Dailey of the Covington Police Department sought to solicit a legal opinion from the Newton County District Attorney’s office in order to clarify officers’ fights when approaching citizens who carry under the new law. Dailey told the Covington News, “Our major question is: What are our rights as police officers when we see somebody carrying a weapon, be it concealed or not? What are our rights to approach that person to see if they have a gun-carrying permit?”
Dailey contended that the way they were interpreting the law meant officers did not have that right but certainly wanted to get clarification. According to Lt. Dailey, law enforcement officers maintained the right to question someone as long as there was reasonable suspicion the person may be in violation of the law in another way.
Dailey indicated in his interview, “If a person is doing something that we deem suspicious, we still think the color of the law will cover us to ask someone if they have a carrying permit. But if we just see somebody walking around Walmart with a gun stuck in the back of his pants, the way the law reads, we can’t ask them.”
Dailey pointed out that officers want to ensure protection of citizens without violating anyone’s rights. It would be nice to see the Newton County elected official of the only constitutionally established law enforcement agency be concerned about violating someone’s rights. Unfortunately, the Newton County Sheriff is more troubled with sanctioning an entire county because of the actions of a few individuals in a small area of the county and sounds more like the poster boy for law enforcement officers in favor of gun control. Gun control leads to gun confiscation as has been seen in other areas of the country by unconstitutional ex post facto laws enacted as a result of the Sandy Hook incident in Connecticut.
The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A) sections concerning Sheriff Brown’s and Lt. Dailey’s statements can be found here, here and here. The references at the GeorgiaPacking.org site were double checked against the OCGA found at the Georgia Legislature site. The law clearly establishes when an individual may open carry and what type of firearm without a permit or license. All other carrying of firearms require a permit. While any gun control law is unconstitutional and the US Constitution nor Georgia State Constitution requires any type of permit for firearms, Georgia passed legislation regarding carry permits but it seems law enforcement in Newton County are not fully supportive of the law that remains in conflict with the US Constitution and individual rights.
The stance of Lt. Paul Dailey is not surprising as the law enforcement agency which employs him is not constitutionally established. However, the stance of Sheriff Ezell Brown might be surprising to some but not many who recognize that many Sheriffs throughout the United States are not honoring their oath to uphold, defend and protect the Constitution. Newton County’s own Sheriff and Lt. Paul Dailey of the Covington Police Department appear to have a problem with the Second Amendment and the laws of Georgia. These officials would rather limit individual God-given rights through unconstitutional law that penalizes law-abiding citizens while they wrongly assume gun control legislation and ordinances will thwart criminals.
Comparing Brown’s “green light” gun remarks to the State law listed in the OCGA, one wonders how Sheriff Brown deduced this increase, which to hear him tell it, guns will be running amok on the streets creating victims in vulnerable places in the community. Law-abiding citizens will honor and respect the law. Criminals and felons refuse to abide by law and never will. Already, individuals who break the law committing mass shootings using illegally gained firearms target “gun-free” zones making any gun free zone a vulnerable place in the community.
Lt. Dailey has every right to be concerned with individuals walking around the local Wal-Mart with a gun stuck in the back of their pants. I can tell you exactly how many times I have seen that in town – ZERO. But, of course, Lt. Dailey would like us to believe criminals walk around with their guns exposed or sticking out of the back of their pants and the new law will mean law-abiding citizens will now stuff a firearm in the back of their pants to go shopping. Most criminals conceal their illegal weapon only exposing it during the commission of the crime. Law-abiding individuals have a little more sense than to stuff a firearm in the back of their pants where it could be the target of theft by a criminal. Regardless of whether an individual is carrying or not, is it not the responsibility of law enforcement to confront the individual and determine intent when an individual is acting in a suspicious manner? Law enforcement had no way of knowing whether an individual was carrying before this law when acting suspiciously and more than likely, anyone intent on committing a crime or in violation of any law would answer falsely when confronted now as well as then.
Residents in the City of Covington and Newton County are facing a situation where their elected Sheriff, a city law enforcement Lieutenant, and some city and county officials appear antagonistic toward the Second Amendment of the US Constitution and laws contained in the Georgia State Constitution and laws contained in the OCGA. These officials ignore the increased crime rate, including gun and violent crime, in cities in the US that have stringent gun control and ignore research studies indicating a decrease in crime rate where the Second Amendment is upheld. Several states have open carry laws where law-abiding individuals openly carry their firearms without permits and licenses without difficulty and in fact, provide a strong deterrent to crime. Maybe Newton County and City of Covington law enforcement officials along with city and county officials should look to the law-abiding citizen as a partner in crime reduction instead of trying to turn law-abiding citizens into victims.
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