To require training or not to require training? That is the question.
For Georgia state Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta), the answer is clear, those seeking to renew or apply for a carry permit ought to have undergone state-required training.
Recently, Rep. Waites pre-filed House Bill 709, which, if passed, would mandate that carry applicants for a Georgia Weapons Permit complete a basic firearms training course that includes instructions on handling weapons and live fire. Certified peace officers, active duty military and licensed firearms instructors would be exempt.
Under current law, applicants for a carry permit need to pass a background check and be fingerprinted.
Waites believes this additional requirement is “common sense.”
“This is simply a means to protect people and get them to think about safety,” she said in an interview with AJC.com. “We need to move away from the conversation about gun rights. This is purely a public safety situation.”
Waites said that she knew very little about firearms when she first obtained her carry permit.
“If you’re going to have a weapon on your person, you most certainly need to at least know how to handle it,” she said.
HB 709 faces an uphill battle. The GOP-majority in the General Assembly has made it very clear that it is interested in expanding gun rights, not curtailing them.
Back in 2014, Waites tried twice to make training mandatory when the Assembly was discussing an expanded concealed carry bill HB 60. Both attempts failed. And opposition was fierce. Opponents successfully argued that a Constitutional right should not be contingent upon whether one passed a training course.
Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, believes that Waites latest effort will likely meet the same fate as her previous ones, saying it’s “pretty much impossible” that HB 709 passes.
However, Powell does not oppose the idea of requiring training, “I didn’t really have a problem with it, just me personally, with doing some sort of minimum training course, just to show you have a certain level of proficiency.”
When it comes to mandatory training, the gun community is a bit divided. Constitutional purists would suggest that the Second Amendment is pretty clear in that we have a right to keep and bear (carry) arms, and that that right shall not be infringed. They would argue that putting a roadblock like mandatory training before one is permitted to exercise that right is tantamount to an infringement.
On the other side of the debate, moderate gun owners might argue that many pro-gun states require training — Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, South Carolina — and that it’s really not a big deal at all in terms of being an “infringement.” They might also say that some training is better than none and that requiring folks to learn the basics may actually preserve gun rights because it will help ensure that they are safe and responsible with their firearms.
Personally, over the years, I’ve gone back and forth on this issue. But at the end of the day where I end up is I don’t believe training should be mandatory. When I examined the states that have enacted Constitutional carry or permitless carry, where one only needs to be a law-abiding citizen to carry, I didn’t notice a higher crime rate, gun homicide rate or accidental shooting rate when compared to states that required training. Maybe training makes a difference, but it’s not readily discernible in the gun stats.
Plus, more fundamentally, I agree with the premise that Constitutional rights should not be subject to contingencies. I believe we should always err on the side of liberty and protecting fundamental rights. I take the viewpoint that we should put faith in the individual, to trust that if one opts to carry a firearm, he or she will act responsibly and seek out the training that is right for him or her. I feel like nowadays the mindset of our leaders is the exact opposite. They are too eager to save people from themselves, too eager to sacrifice civil liberties at the altar of public safety, and too eager to lose their faith in the individual.