Mass Shootings And Gun Laws In Georgia: A Closer Look

Oct 25, 2017

There are many different definitions as to what constitutes a mass shooting. Depending on what definition you look at, there was anywhere from six to 383 mass shootings in 2016 in the United States.

Mother Jones, a nonprofit news magazine, found that six mass shootings occurred in the United States in 2016, none of which happened in Georgia. According to the FBI, there were 20 mass shootings in 2016, and according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive there were 383 – 17 of which occurred in Georgia.

Where does this discrepancy come from? The answer lies in how the sources collect and classify their data.

The FBI defines a mass shooting as a shooting incident that kills or injures three or more people. Mass shootings are classified under what the FBI calls “active shooter ” situations, which involve an individual that is actively engaged in attempting to kill people within a populated public area. The FBI notes that the definition, “does not encompass all mass killings or shootings in public places and therefore is limited in its scope.” Another influencing factor in the FBI’s definition is the bureau’s choice to report gang related gun violence under a different category of crime than active shooter situations.

The Gun Violence Archive’s definition stipulates that a mass shooting is an incident with four or more killed and/or injured at the same time, and that the victim tally does not include the shooter themselves. This definition gives the greatest number of mass shootings that have occurred in the United States since 2014 - which is when the organization started to collect data.

Mother Jones has been conducting an investigation on mass shootings in the United States since 2012. The given criteria that Mother Jones works with are: the perpetrator killed at least four people, killings were carried out by a lone shooter, the shootings occurred in public, and the victim count does not include the perpetrator if they were killed or wounded in the event. According to this definition, there have only been two mass shootings in the state of Georgia since 1982 - one in 1999 and the other in 2012.

A large part about understanding the variety of definitions attached to “mass shootings” depends on understanding what part of gun violence the organization wants to highlight. In the case of the Mother Jones investigation, its definition is being used to underline how guns are legally and illegally obtained in the United States. In contrast, the GVA is looking at all gun violence in the United States, not simply instances of mass shootings. The FBI is not trying to highlight any specific part of the gun debate in the United States. They deal with all other types of crime, and gun violence is only one part of their jurisdiction.

The way that the data on mass shootings is collected is also important to look at. The GVA site aggregates data from many different sources constantly, rather than collecting data firsthand like Mother Jones. The FBI has a government mandate to keep data on all crime that goes on within the country and their definition of active shooter needs to be read within that context. Like with many terms that are tossed around in a highly charged atmosphere - domestic terrorism, illegal immigration, or assault rifles - the phrase “mass shooting” is imprecise. This phrase is used regularly, which makes its impreciseness alarming, because it is rarely explained in a consistent manner or in a clear context. As the national conversation surrounding mass shootings and gun violence continues, it is important to keep this in mind how the context of a definition is used to create an argument and highlight certain parts of the issue.

Laws controlling the use and ownership of guns in Georgia are some of the most lenient in the country. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Georgia consistently ranks low on their annual scorecards for states.

Georgia is a “shall issue” state, which means that while the law requires a license to carry a concealed handgun, the criteria are laid out in the law. This is different than a “may issue” state, which allows for the concealed carry of a handgun, but who can receives a permit is up to the discretion of the local authorities.

States can recognize and reciprocate concealed carry permits issued by other states, and Georgia has this reciprocity with 32 other states. Any person with a concealed carry permit must have it on them or in their immediate possession at all times when carrying their weapon.

There are laws in place that allow people to carry guns in certain locations in Georgia without needing a permit. Georgia law also allows for the private sale of guns without processing through the Federal Firearms License and without a background check.

As of July, 2006, Georgia became a “stand your ground” state, which means that when using deadly force as self-defense or defense of others, a person has no duty by law to retreat beforehand. In 2005, Florida became the first state in the country to pass a stand your ground law.  Since then, 24 states have passed similar stand your ground laws.

Over the past few years, Georgia has passed several laws that weaken gun control and decreased regulations. In 2014, Governor Nathan Deal signed into law House Bill 60, commonly called the “Guns Everywhere” bill. HB 60 allows state residents with a permit to conceal a firearm to bring weapons into bars, churches, school zones, government buildings and certain areas of airports. In 2017, the Georgia legislature passed HB 280, which allows for the concealed carry of handguns on University of Georgia System campuses, with several restrictions, many of which are ambiguous to faculty and students alike.

Given the trend of state legislation concerning guns in the past decade, Georgia remains an environment where guns are seen as something that are easily obtained and utilized. This focus in legislation will continue to affect the gun debate and how guns are seen to the public.