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Georgia governor calls for permitless carry gun bill amid rise in Atlanta shootings  

Republican Governor Brian Kemp and the NRA's push for so-called constitutional carry legislation in the Peach State offers no peace of mind to Atlanta as it grapples with a surge in gun violence.

ATLANTA (CN) — A 6-month-old boy was killed while in the backseat of his mother's car in a drive-by shooting on Monday. The death of Grayson Matthew Fleming-Gray marks Atlanta's second deadly shooting involving babies this year and the 12th homicide of 2022, and it's not even February yet.

Meanwhile, Georgia's Republican Governor Brian Kemp is seeking reelection and promising on the campaign trail to pass what gun rights advocates call a "constitutional carry" bill, which would likely allow eligible Georgians to open or concealed carry a handgun without a permit.

"Gun violence is out of control," Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said during a news conference following Monday's shooting. “These children are bearing the burden and the pain of adults who are choosing to use guns to solve disputes. The children are bearing this burden with their lives, and I’m here to ask, and to demand, that it stop right now."

The mayor's plea came just two weeks after Kemp spoke at the self-proclaimed "world's largest gun store," Adventure Outdoors in Smyrna, Georgia, with support from Republican state lawmakers and members of the National Rifle Association.

"We shouldn't have to claw back a civil right; we shouldn't have to fight for a God-given right to defend ourselves," NRA board member Willes Lee said at the press conference. "And as long as there are anti-American, anti-gun zealots who try to take our civil rights, NRA members will stay in the fight this year, next year and into the future."

Despite the United States having the world's highest gun suicide rate and the highest rate of violent firearm deaths compared to other developed countries, more than 20 states currently have constitutional carry measures in place,

Republicans across the nation have built their support by associating gun culture with expressions of freedom and patriotism, often fueled by funding from the NRA, which gun control advocates say makes millions each year by instilling fear and the false need for protection among Americans.

"Where there are more guns, there is more death," said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "You can see what is going on in America right now. People are armed, people get upset, they shoot each other, or they get involved in tough moments in their lives, fueled by alcohol and hurt themselves."

Horwitz has spent nearly three decades working on gun violence protection issues and helped found the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy, a group of mental health and public health experts who designed policies that can prevent those at a heightened risk of violent behavior from possessing firearms. 

"Over the last 20 to 30 years, we've seen a change in the cultural interpretation of the Second Amendment. Driven intentional, to make it seem that there's an individual right to political violence, to dispute what we don't like through violence," Horwitz said in an interview.

Although Kemp has long touted his support for gun rights – a 2018 campaign video showed him pointing a firearm at a teen boy – his 2022 reelection efforts appear aimed at winning back Republican support he lost from Donald Trump supporters after he refused to help the former president overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia.

Election officials across the state have faced violent threats from Trump supporters, believing his disproven claims of a rigged and stolen election.

"If we have people who just show up armed at ballot counts to intimidate volunteer election workers, our democracy cannot stand. It's interesting to think about the juxtaposition of 'lets get everyone to have arms' while at the same time we need to count ballots by the books peacefully. It's kind of opposite," said Horwitz.

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He added, "We don't want people settling every dispute with a firearm, including political disputes. Giving everyone a firearm may not be the best thing for election integrity. If people think, 'well, all I have to do is take my gun and go to a polling center and I can actually influence something,' that's a bad idea."

(Image by Jason Gillman from Pixabay)

With the last year's insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse being acquitted of murder after fatally shooting two people at a protest, and a couple in St. Louis getting national attention for standing with guns in their front yard as protesters passed, the political narrative that arming yourself is the only way to stay safe has grown and evolved.

This could create dangerous situations in Georgia, where citizens are legally allowed to use deadly force to defend themselves, other people or property if they believe it is necessary.

"Permitless carry contributes to a dangerous narrative that informs and reinforces state-sanctioned violence. Coupled with use of force laws here in Georgia, specifically Stand Your Ground, we inadvertently promote a culture of violence that ultimately leaves our communities less safe," said Josh Woodall, public policy associate for the Southern Center for Human Rights.

The stress of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has also led to a surge in suicides, especially among Georgia's youth, as well as an increase in domestic violence, both of which usually involve guns.

According to Renee Hopkins, CEO of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, victims of domestic violence are five times more likely to die if there is easy access to a gun, which correlates with a dramatic increase in the risk of suicide as well.

"Guns do not make people safer. In situations where people are in crisis such as suicide or in domestic violence situations, having easy access to a gun can turn a harmful situation into a lethal situation," said Hopkins.

After losing her brother to a school shooting in 1996 and serving as the founding executive director of the Seattle Police Foundation for 14 years, Hopkins has devoted her career to implementing state laws aimed at gun violence prevention.

"Reckless policies like permitless carry will not even come close to addressing the rising rates of gun violence, and in fact they will make it worse. Policies like background checks and protection orders work to keep guns out of the hands of people who are most likely to cause harm, and those really are the kind of policies that I would hope all Georgia leaders should be focusing on," she said.

She added, "Research has shown that more permissive concealed carry laws are associated with increased levels of violent crime, and it's extremely concerning that Georgia's trying to follow a handful of other states in advancing policies as dangerous as permitless carry. There's no question that it would make Georgia less safe."

Another deadly consequence of expanding people's access to guns falls in the hands of law enforcement officers. A 2019 study from the American Economic Association found that permitless carry increases the rate of people fatally shot by police by 5.2%.

"What we're seeing in terms of officers being shot and officers being scared of being shot, creates a real distrust in the community," said Horwitz.

Despite the governor's mansion being located in the city, Kemp has not made any promise to address Atlanta's rising homicide and gun violence rates on his campaign site.

At the Jan. 5 gun store press conference, the governor said a surge in violent crime is more reason to expand access to guns.

"Building a safer, stronger Georgia starts with hardworking Georgians having the ability to protect themselves and their families,” he said. “In the face of rising violent crime across the country, law-abiding citizens should have their constitutional rights protected, not undermined.”

But Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant says something needs to be done about how many guns are on the streets.

“The proliferation of weaponry that we’re seeing on these streets, we have to do something about that,” Bryant said in a news conference after the 6-month-old baby was shot Monday. “We can no longer allow our criminals to continue to carry guns.”

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