Georgia Mayor Touting New Gun Ordinance That Violates State Preemption Law – Bearing Arms

Georgia Mayor Touting New Gun Ordinance That Violates State Preemption Law – Bearing Arms

I recently had the opportunity to visit Savannah, Georgia for the first time, and I was very impressed by what I saw. The city, or at least the historic district downtown, is absolutely beautiful. If I ever leave rural Virginia and move back to a more urban environment, however, Savannah won’t be on my short list of destinations. The city’s leadership has shown it doesn’t give a damn about following the law, at least when it comes to guns, and there’s no way I’m going to move somewhere my rights aren’t respected. 

Last week the Savannah City Council approved a new ordinance requiring gun owners to lock up their firearms in a glove compartment, center console, trunk or behind the last row of seats in vehicles without trunks. Gun owners are also required to lock up their unoccupied vehicles when they leave a gun behind, and failure to comply with the ordinance could result in a 30-day jail sentence and a $1,000 fine. 

If those were storage suggestions, I’d be on board. Thefts from vehicles are on the rise around the country, and firearms are always a hot commodity for thieves. As gun owners, we should take reasonable steps to prevent our firearms from being stolen, but there’s nothing reasonable about what Savannah is doing. The ordinance essentially blames the victims of crime, but it also squarely violates Georgia’s firearms preemption statute, which leaves gun policy up to the state legislature. 

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, however, insists that the law will be enforced when it takes effect in a few weeks. 

The president of the Savannah Racial Justice Network, Alan Mainor, has criticized the change, saying it criminalizes residents for owning guns, and the leader of the statewide gun rights group Georgia Carry labeled it an “illegal ordinance.” 

Savannah’s law is unique in Georgia but not nationally, with similar gun storage laws in effect in 10 states.

As for enforcement, a city government spokesman declined a request for interviews with Savannah Police Department officials, instead issuing a statement detailing the penalties and court process.

Johnson expects legal challenges to the revised law and is ready to defend it. He said local governments cannot be afraid to pass laws meant to protect the public, pointing to Savannah’s mask mandate enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The law was contrary to a state statute that forbid mask requirements.

“I would love to see someone tell a judge in this community that they should have the right to leave their gun unsecured where it can be stolen,” Johnson said. “In the time it takes for someone to file a complaint, they could secure their gun.”

It wasn’t a state statute, but an executive order by Gov. Brian Kemp that forbade cities from imposing mask requirements. There is a state statute in place limiting the authority of cities like Savannah from passing their own local gun laws. Here’s what it says:

“[N]o county or municipal corporation, by zoning, by ordinance or resolution, or by any other means, nor any agency, board, department, commission, political subdivision, school district, or authority of this state, other than the General Assembly, by rule or regulation or by any other means shall regulate in any manner: (A) Gun shows; (B) The possession, ownership, transport, carrying, transfer, sale, purchase, licensing, or registration of firearms or other weapons or components of firearms or other weapons; (C) Firearms dealers or dealers of other weapons; or (D) Dealers in components of firearms or other weapons.”

While the statute doesn’t specifically reference “storage”, any reasonable person would conclude that falls under the “possession” and “ownership” of a gun. Of course, Johnson doesn’t sound all that reasonable when discussing the issue. The question isn’t whether someone has the right to leave a firearm unsecured in a vehicle. It’s whether the city has the power to punish someone who does so, and the answer is pretty clearly “no.” 

Is it a bad idea to lock up your gun when you leave it in your vehicle? Absolutely. Should it be a crime not to do so? Absolutely not. We can’t and shouldn’t criminalize every dumb idea or poor decision. The underlying issue here is the fact that there are too many criminals in the city who are emboldened to break into cars and steal whatever they can find. That’s what should really concern Johnson and the city council, and that’s where law enforcement’s focus should be going forward. It’s probably going to take a lawsuit to make that happen, but I have no doubt if the ordinance is challenged it will be thrown out by the courts. 

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