Rash of Mass Shootings Raises Weapons Possession Questions
Regardless of your political viewpoint, three mass shootings in a month is three too many. Beefing up enforcement of existing laws, like illegal weapons possession laws, is a good place to start. The Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep (own) and bear (carry) firearms. For the most part, Georgia law doesn’t regulate firearm ownership. But it closely regulates firearm possession. Individuals with licenses can carry almost any weapon anywhere, subject to the limitations listed below and the terms of the license. Unlicensed individuals may carry weapons in the following circumstances:
- Unloaded handgun in a case, like a display case,
- Loaded rifle or other long gun, if the weapon is carried in an open and obvious manner, and
- Carrying any weapon inside your motor vehicle, owned business, or private residence.
The handgun exception usually applies to people who just bought, or who are about to sell, handguns at trade shows. The last exception is relatively straightforward, especially if the defendant is inside a home or building. If the defendant carried a gun into the parking lot, things are a bit more uncertain.
Lots of criminal cases in Cobb County involve the long gun exception. The law is rather vague as to what constitutes open and obvious carrying. Many people carry hunting rifles in backpack-like cases. The case might be obvious, but the contents are hidden. Officers could arrest defendants in these situations, especially since so many people are antsy about mass shootings. However, a Marietta criminal defense attorney could probably beat these charges in court.
Prohibited Places and Activities
As mentioned, Georgia and other states have laws sharply limiting weapons carrying, even for licensed individuals. Prohibited locations in the Peachtree State, and some possible issues in these cases, include:
- Nuclear Facility: We’ve never handled a case that involved carrying a gun to a nuclear power, weapons, or other facility, and we sincerely hope we never will.
- Jail, Courthouse, or Prison: Jails and prisons are straightforward. Courthouses aren’t as straightforward. For example, especially in smaller communities, a courthouse, like a traffic court satellite, might be in a mini mall. You cannot carry a gun into the courtroom itself. But what about to the clerk’s counter in front? Or what about the common area immediately outside the courthouse?
- Place of Worship: Not all churches have steeples and stained-glass windows. IN fact, most churches don’t have these things. They may not even meet in a church building. Usually, these charges only hold up in court if religious services were ongoing, about to start, or had just ended. There’s also a loophole in this law. The governing body, which could be the local congregation or could be a religious bigshot in another state or country, could give licensees permission to carry guns to church.
- Schools: If licensees bump into kids on a field trip, the police could arrest the licensee for carrying a gun at a school function. Officers most likely won’t believe it was just a coincidence that you were there with a gun.
It’s also illegal for license-holders to carry guns within 150 feet of an active polling place, in a secure area of an airport, at a state-operated mental facility that treats involuntarily admitted patients, and during the commission of most crimes.
A related area of Georgia law prohibits certain activities, for license-holders and unlicensed individuals alike. These prohibited activities include:
- Discharging a firearm near a public street or highway,
- Firing a gun on someone else’s property,
- Discharging a firearm under the influence of drugs or alcohol,
- Furnishing weapons to underage persons,
- Pointing a gun at anyone,
- Hurting a police dog or other law enforcement animal, and
- Possession of a “dangerous weapon.”
What about carrying a gun into a place that displays a “no guns” sign? We’re glad you asked. These signs are only valid if they contain certain information and are posted at certain locations. Usually, the sign must at least refer to Georgia law and appear on or near the front door.
Reasonable suspicion issues are very common in UCW and other possession cases. Before an officer detains an individual or pulls over a motorist, s/he must have an evidence-based hunch that the defendant has done something wrong. That evidence could be something unrelated to gun-carrying criminal activity, like loitering or running a stop sign.
If officers have reasonable suspicion, they may pat the suspect down for weapons. Usually, they also ask defendants if they’re carrying anything illegal.
Officers often put the cart before the horse. If a defendant fits a certain profile, the officer watches the defendant until s/he does something wrong, and then stops the defendant. These stops are illegal under current law.
The age old “I thought I saw a gun” line has justified countless stop-and-frisk stops over the years. Back in the day, many jurors wholeheartedly supported such stops. However, in the body camera era, suspicious jurors see what officers saw.
On a related note, Georgia law doesn’t technically require concealed weapons licensees to tell cops they’re carrying guns in these situations. Realistically, telling an officer you have a heater could be a bad idea or a good idea, depending on the situation. We usually tell people to use their best judgement.
As mentioned, individuals cannot own dangerous weapons, like sawed-off shotguns, fully automatic weapons, and a few other items covered in the National Firearms Act, like silencers. A Marietta gun trust lawyer can create a firearm trust in these situations. The trust legally owns the dangerous weapon, instead of an individual.
AN individual, who is usually the prior legal owner, is generally the trustee (person who manages the trust). So, for everyday purposes, the prior owner is the current owner as well.
Gun trusts have some other benefits as well. For example, when owners die, they may not want their gun collections to become public record. If the guns are in a trust, they remain private.
Additionally, the trustee can usually freely designate co-trustees. Assume Rachel took a dangerous weapon to a gun show, and she accidentally left the device in the car. If her husband gets pulled over, he could be arrested for felony gun possession. If he was an NFA trust co-trustee, he stays out of trouble.
Prohibited weapons cases have a lot of moving parts. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Marietta, contact the Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions