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Gun safety storage bill gets hearing in Georgia legislature, a first since Atlanta spa shootings

State Rep. Michelle Au presented HB 161 to a Georgia House subcommittee Thursday morning.

ATLANTA — A bill on gun storage regulations was presented Thursday before a Georgia House subcommittee - as the state marked two years since the Atlanta spa shootings. Its sponsor, state Rep. Michelle Au, described the hearing as the "first substantive committee hearing for a gun safety bill that we have had since the tragic events two years ago to this day."

HB 161 would set standards for gun owners and how they must store their firearms where children could potentially have access to them. 

It would require gun owners to "take steps that a reasonable person would believe sufficient to prevent the access to a readily dischargeable firearm by a child."

The bill could also make owners "place a firearm in a locked container or temporarily render the firearm inoperable by a trigger lock or other means."

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Au noted during the hearing, before the Georgia House Public Safety & Homeland Security 2-A Subcommittee, that "readily dischargeable" in the text of the bill essentially means loaded.

Au noted that 23 other states have similar legislation, including in Florida and Texas. The bill, though, is unlikely to make much progress in Georgia's Republican-dominated legislature, where gun safety and control legislation has generally been met with stiff opposition from Second Amendment advocates.

Still, she said the ability to get a hearing was a significant step that has denied other gun-related bills brought by Democrats in the wake of the March 16, 2021 spa shootings.

Au, a Johns Creek Democrat, framed her bill as a measure to combat youth gun deaths and injuries. She pointed to a CDC study which found gun deaths were the leading cause of child and teen mortality in 2020.

She said HB 161 would "clearly define the parameters of safe storage and create this culture of gun safety where such storage practices are the norm." 

Au compared the bill's effort to car seat regulations for children. She argued, addressing potential concerns of gun owners that the legislation would infringe Second Amendment rights, that enforcement of car seat laws does not generally involve invasive or strict surveillance - but that the laws have nonetheless have created a "culture of safety... ingrained in parents."

In public comments opposing the measure, Alex Dorr, the political director for the advocacy group Georgia Gun Owners, said Second Amendment supporters would "not tolerate radical gun control fanatics." Dorr also added the group's membership had "delegated me to tell you how foolish HB 161 is."

He argued the legislation would hinder gun owners in scenarios such as break-ins, making it difficult or more timely to access their firearm in a dangerous and uncertain situation.

"This has nothing to do with safety, this is all about big government shoving their noses into our homes and trying to disarm us," he said.

Dorr criticized the CDC study, saying it was skewed by the inclusion of older teens. Au responded that 18- and 19-year-olds were included to boost the study's dataset, and that there is no standalone data just for children ages one to 17. She argued that 18- and 19-year-olds are still teenagers, with the data in the study reflecting gun incidents as the No. 1 cause for death among younger children and teenagers.

"This bill does not aim to disarm anyone, does not restrict anyone  from buying or purchasing as many guns as they want. It just requests when you have guns that can be accessed by a minor, they be stored securely," Au said.


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