The United States is a country so riddled with daily gun violence that it goes almost unnoticed in the bustle of most of our lives. But it is hard to ignore when little children or grocery shoppers are mowed down by 18 year olds with military style weapons; in addition to shock and sadness, we can take this opportunity to examine the gun laws and culture in our state of Georgia.
Georgia has a huge number of guns in circulation. Close to 50 percent of adult Georgians live in a household with a gun. We rank 6th in the nation in terms of number of registered guns, with a little over 300,000, according to Statista. The Atlanta Civic Circle has compiled a good summary of types of gun regulations we have, or worse, don’t have.
Not only do we have a lot of guns in the state, we are one of the 10 top states for gun manufacturing. Georgia has approximately 75 companies involved in gun manufacturing and is home to Daniel Defense, the manufacturer of the semi-automatic weapon used in the Uvalde mass murder. The iconic gun manufacturer, Remington, relocated to Troup County last fall after emerging from bankruptcy and a corporate restructuring. A Remington rifle was used in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, resulting in a business slump and the company’s eventual bankruptcy after parents of the 6 year old victims successfully sued.
The gun industry in Georgia is aggressively courted and supported by Governor Kemp; he staked out a strong pro-gun position early in his 2018 campaign with an ad that drew national attention and earned him the moniker Governor Shot Gun in some circles. Since taking office, Kemp has made reducing gun safety measures a focus of his administration. His emphasis has further reduced Georgia’s already weak gun restrictions by allowing guns on college campuses, and eliminating the need for gun owners to get a permit for a concealed weapon.
Of course, Kemp has a supportive Republican majority in the legislature that has shown no willingness to consider any gun safety measures. “The current political response by the Republican leadership to reasonable, mainstream proposals for gun safety has been pathetic,” says state Representative Mary Margaret Oliver. “In the beginning of my political career, gun safety was a bipartisan, intellectually honest discussion, although we didn't pass much. At this stage of my career, it's a 100% partisan and intellectually dishonest discussion. I'm wondering when the Republicans will see it in their political interest to be more responsive to the majority of Americans who want action to make their lives safer for them and their children.”
Despite our elected Republicans’ unwillingness to consider much of anything to make guns safer, opinion polls consistently show broad public support for gun safety regulations. Legislators, mostly in red states, are out of step with the views of the majority of their electorate. The most obvious explanation for this misalignment is money. Pro gun organizations, such as the National Rifle Association and others, have shoveled campaign contributions to candidates and incumbents who agree to reduce gun restrictions. A worrying sign is that after the recent Buffalo shooting, Rep. Chris Jacobs, a Buffalo Republican, vowed to embrace an assault weapons ban. But he decided to abandon his re-election campaign after harsh backlash from Trump and other Republican party members. More locally, Marty and Cindy Daniel, the owners of gun maker Daniel Defense, are significant donors to Republicans both in Georgia and around the country, and other gun interests are major donors to most Georgia Republican elected officials.
Georgia’s gun problem affects other states through what is called the Iron Pipeline. Guns are purchased or stolen by individuals in Georgia, and then transported and sold in states that have more gun restrictions up the east coast along the I-95 corridor. According to the Gifford Law Center gun trafficking is the diversion of guns from lawful commerce into an illegal market. Georgia is often mentioned as one of the main states supplying illegally obtained guns for the Iron Pipeline. Here is one of many news articles about guns being trafficked from Georgia.
Last week on Gun Violence Prevention Day, President Biden boldly called for banning assault weapons. The problem with assault weapons is not unique to Georgia, but it is important to understand the unique nature of assault weapons. In a recent Atlantic article a radiologist says that assault weapons are so lethal partly because the bullets travel at a much higher velocity than bullets from a handgun. As a result, the wounds these bullets make are not simple bullet holes, but more significant tears. Sadly, this explains why the officials in Uvalde were asking parents to give DNA samples. Some of the children who died were unrecognizable. The few survivors may face multiple surgeries and rehabilitation. These weapons do not belong on our streets, our grocery stores, or our schools.
In addition to the nature of rapid fire and severity of wounds, assault weapons are often the weapon of choice by young men. This is partly because of aggressive marketing targeted to this age group by the gun industry, particularly by Georgia’s own Daniel Defense. As quoted in the New York Times article, “Daniel Defense is basically the poster child of this egregious, aggressive marketing,” said Ryan Busse, a former executive at the gun company Kimber who is now an industry critic. “Marty Daniel burst in the door, a lot louder and more brazen than other gun makers, much like Donald Trump did on the political scene.” He added, “Through this company, you are telling the story of how the gun industry has become increasingly radicalized.”
So what is to be done? “To get the change we need,” says long-time activist at the Georgia capitol, Larry Pellegrini, “voters have to push the issue up on their priority list.” During the next few months, voters in Georgia will have opportunities to go to debates and town halls. ”They need to let candidates and current elected officials know that gun safety is important.” In our democratic system, your vote is your voice. And as Rep. Oliver said, "Elections have consequences."