VALDOSTA, GA., is where the notorious gunfighter/gambler/raconteur John Henry "Doc" Holliday spent his teen years, before a stint in dental school in Philly and his foray out West and into legend.
His family moved down to South Georgia from the Atlanta area to flee the Yankees during the war. Doc Holliday didn’t leave much of a mark on Valdosta while he was there, and the town has largely returned the favor, since then known for little more than the prowess of its high school and college football teams.
Until last week, that is. On July 1, Valdosta became known nationwide as the place where Georgia’s new “Guns Everywhere” law faced its first real-world test—on the very first day the law was in effect!
In the old days this kind of thing happened in saloons and corrals, but in 2014 I guess it’s convenience stories. The Valdosta incident came about when one man with a holstered gun demanded to see the Georgia Weapons Carry permit and ID of another man in the store who was also carrying a holstered gun.
The first man drew his pistol and waved it in the air when the other customer refused to show him his permit. After the second armed man completed his purchase—now that’s guts, by the way—he called the police on the first man, who was arrested.
It’s a classic case of unintended consequences, though not unforeseen ones. As I mentioned in a recent column, one of the most radical yet under-reported aspects of the new Safe Carry Protection Act is that a gun-carrying person “shall not be subject to detention for the sole purpose of investigating whether such a person has a weapons carry license.”
In other words, a cop can ask to see your permit, but that’s about it. You don’t have to answer and you can just walk away, unless you do something to provide probable cause.
Essentially what that means is you don’t really need a permit at all to openly carry a gun. So the new gun law actually incentivizes law-breaking, another indication it was poorly conceived from the get-go.
In the Valdosta case, real life went one further, and you had a non-cop trying to detain another private citizen in order to see his weapons permit.
(Personally I think the second man deserves a medal. The fact is that under the “Stand Your Ground” law he would be completely justified in pulling his own weapon and shooting down the man who pulled a gun on him. The self-restraint he showed, given the fact that he was already armed and likely knew how to handle a weapon, is remarkable. But I digress.)
Yup, it’s pretty much the Wild West out there already. Doc Holliday—known for his calm nerves and steady hand in a gunfight —might find it a very comfortable environment, but I doubt the rest of us will.
Unlike the Wild West, however, not even the local sheriff can tell you to hang up your gunbelt on the outskirts of town. Can hardly even politely request that you do so.
It’s easy to make fun of a podunk South Georgia town. But such a standoff could now happen anywhere in the Peach State, from Fulton County to Athens to good ol’ Savannah, and the results might not be so bloodless next time.
In my mind, what the law’s impact shows isn’t that guns are so very evil, but that the politicians who supported it and voted for it are so very irresponsible.
The intent of the law is almost purely symbolic, written by politicians who care more about a narrow agenda than about the impact of their law on the citizenry.
By emphasizing open carry rather than concealed carry—both covered by the GA Weapons Carry License—the new law encourages disruptive behavior.
(So am I saying concealed weapons, as opposed to open carry, are more desirable? Yes! Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Concealed weapons have been legal in Georgia for decades. If you never see the gun, then the gun doesn’t provoke fear, paranoia, and an equal and opposite reaction.)
Rhetoric about fighting crime aside, parts of the Safe Carry Protection Act are clearly written specifically to provoke, not calm, civil unrest. Its provisions seem designed to encourage paranoia and reward deviant behavior, as in Valdosta last week.
Whether it’s the provision that no one can be confronted about having a license or the downgrading of most gun violations to a mere $100 misdemeanor, the “Guns Everywhere” law doesn’t promote public order.
Rather, it encourages the unraveling of society at our most public gathering places: Churches, bars, government buildings, school parking lots, and yes, even convenience stores.
I’m generally sympathetic to gun rights, but the Safe Carry Protection Act is just bad law, pure and simple.
The bipartisan majority who supported it, Republicans and Democrats alike, should be ashamed, and should change the law before someone loses their life because of it.