Georgia's controversial new gun law allows firearms in schools, churches, and bars (with some exceptions). But does it also expand the state's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense provision?
Critics are calling attention to language in House Bill 60 (aka the Safe Carry Protection Act) that would effectively "[protect] convicted felons who kill using illegal guns," as MSNBC has reported.
What does the new gun law actually say, and how does it affect Georgia's existing "Stand Your Ground" provision?
'Stand Your Ground' in Georgia
Georgia is one of dozens of states with some form of "Stand Your Ground" law -- not requiring victims to retreat before resorting to deadly force in self-defense cases.
But not everyone in Georgia agrees with keeping "Stand Your Ground." State Sen. Vincent Fort announced in January that he would sponsor a bill (Senate Bill 280) to repeal Georgia's "Stand Your Ground" law, claiming it allowed "individuals to shoot first and ask questions later." The bill, currently in committee, would remove the criminal immunity under Georgia's "Stand Your Ground" provision if passed.
While the Safe Carry Protection Act doesn't explicitly mention "Stand Your Ground," it does touch on prosecuting those who use guns in self-defense.
Intoxicated Felons Can 'Stand Their Ground'
Georgia law immunizes a person from criminal prosecution if he kills another in self-defense in accordance with state laws. However, this immunity does not apply to persons who kill using an unlawfully possessed weapon.
This prohibition used to apply to:
- Those who discharge a firearm while under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- Convicted felons and probationers who possess firearms; and
- Those who carry weapons in bars, courthouses, government buildings, and places of worship
These exceptions to "Stand Your Ground" immunity will be removed from Georgia's law under the Safe Carry Protection Act, which takes effect July 1. But "Stand Your Ground" still stands.
A Worrisome Hypothetical
It is the intersection of these two laws which creates a frightening hypothetical: Can a felon who illegally possesses a gun, but uses it in self-defense, be immune from prosecution for killing a person? What about an intoxicated person who kills someone?
The latter may be easier to deal with, since voluntary intoxication often negates certain defenses to murder or manslaughter, but that still leaves sober felons.
This may illuminate why critics are so worried about Georgia's new gun law, and why even "Stand Your Ground" advocates may be thinking twice about its impact.
- Gun law packs dangers, police chief says (CNN)
- Ga.'s 'Guns Everywhere' Bill Signed Into Law (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- Stand Your Ground: Ga. Dropping It? Theater Shooter Claiming It? (FindLaw's U.S. Eleventh Circuit Blog)
- Trayvon's Mom: Clarify 'Stand Your Ground' Laws (FindLaw's Blotter)