New law clouds murky gun debate - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

New law clouds murky gun debate

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Supporters dubbed the bill the "Safe Carry Protection Act," critics the "Guns Everywhere Law."

A week after Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill, citizens across Georgia are trying to figure out what the impact expanded weapons carry laws will have.

The bill was a major topic at a panel discussion Wednesday -- hosted by Savannah State University at the Coastal Georgia Center -- on the state's "Stand Your Ground" laws.

Under the laws, Georgians can meet deadly force with deadly force, not just at home, but anywhere they can be lawfully. Someone who is threatened doesn't have to prove there was no way to get away.

Changes to the state's "Stand Your Ground Laws" that come with Georgia's expanded weapons carry bill may be a boon to defense attorneys.

Come July 1, a convicted felon who uses a gun in self-defense would be entitled to an immunity hearing in front of a judge and may never see a jury.

"The fact that they can actually raise that claim pre-trial is a big difference," Chatham County Public Defender Michael Edwards said. 

Non-felons have been entitled to such hearings since 2006.

Edwards said said those changes to the law level the playing field in the courtroom.

"Many of our clients who have exercised self-defense may have been in possession of a weapon that they aren't legally allowed to possess."

Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap isn't worried about how that will affect murder cases.

"I just make sure my prosecutors are well trained and are willing to fight," she said.

Heap's concern is that Georgians don't know much about the expanded carry laws yet. She worries a lack of education may lead some to carry firearms where they aren't allowed.

Georgia Carry board member Ed Stone, an attorney who lobbied for the bill, said the changes it brings to the state's gun laws combat racial disparities in the courtroom.

"Black males are convicted felons or otherwise ineligible to carry a firearm more frequently than are white males," he said.

Stone points out that not all felons are violent, that most drug crimes are felonies, and so is illegally downloading music.  

"Martha Stewart, for instance," said Stone. "She is a convicted felon, and I believe she has every much a right to defend herself against rape, robbery or murder as do you or I."

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