Cops speak out on new Georgia laws
Local law enforcement officials have a variety of opinions on some of the laws that went into effect to begin July, but all are concerned about the Safe Carry Protection Act.
The new law allows gun owners to carry their firearm in many more places than ever, including some churches and bars, but the law stipulates certain places must first grant the gun carrier permission.
“It’s so confusing,” said Polk County Police Chief Kenny Dodd. “As far as allowing you to carry a gun into a church, the church may not agree with that.”
Dodd said the new law has prompted his church to change its bylaws to only allow certified law enforcement to carry guns into the building.
He said the rules involving school safety zones are confusing because two bills, offering contradictory phrasing, were passed during the last legislature. The last bill, House Bill 60, is the law the Georgia Attorney General’s office is using to guide law enforcement. The bill states firearms are not allowed in school zones.
Rockmart Police Chief Keith Sorrells said the one aspect of the new law that scares him the most is allowing people to take guns into bars.
“I’ve seen over the years, the effect that alcohol has on people and taking a gun into a bar really concerns me,” Sorrells said.
Polk County Sheriff Johnny Moats has the same concerns.
“Guns and alcohol don’t mix,” he said. “If someone pulls one out then another pulls one out and you’ll have a shooting.”
All three said they are pro-Second Amendment, but they can sense that a lot of things can go wrong under the new law.
Dodd said the biggest concern he has is gun carriers not surrendering to uniformed police when they arrive on the scene.
“What happens when we come up on a situation and people have guns out and we can’t distinguish who the good guys are and the bad guys are?” he asked.
“The best course of action is when they see the police is to put it down.”
Dodd said those gun owners who refuse to put a firearm down when ordered to by uniformed police will likely be shot, because of an unwritten rule that a uniformed officer always has authority over anyone in plain clothes when it comes to weapons.
He still fears some people will still refuse to cooperate with police and will leave officers no option but to shoot.
Better understanding of gun laws, Dodd said, might solve a lot of potential problems between gun owners and police officers. However the state doesn’t require all those wanting to carry a gun to take a gun safety course like it’s required in Tennessee. It’s a requirement Dodd wished were in place Georgia.
Another state law police are looking to find a solution for is slower drivers.
Those drivers cruising in the left lane had better move it along or move over under another law in effect as of July 1. H.B. 459, dubbed the “slowpoke law,” states those who are in the left lane with someone going faster behind them must move into another lane for them to pass.
Moats said the law is a duplicate of other laws preventing people from impeding traffic flow.
“I’ve actually stopped cars for years doing that. I’ve never written a ticket but have warned them,” Moats said.
The left lane is supposed to be for passing only, but many drivers use it to cruise longer distances. The old law allowed for people to continue in the left lane if drivers are driving the speed limit and if they are side by side with another driver, Dodd said.
The new law states you must move over, even if the car behind you is going well beyond the speed limit.
Bill Hitchens, a former Georgia Public Safety Commissioner, created the law.
“He said the purpose wasn’t to encourage speeding but to reduce road rage,” Dodd said.
Dodd said many road rage incidents have started because a person couldn’t get past slower vehicles. Citizens have driven slow on purpose to prevent others from speeding and Dodd said people need to move over and let police handle the speeders.
Sorrells said he has noticed that “slowpokes” tend to be people on cell phones.
“So many times, they are in the left lane talking on the telephone and that is what is slowing people down,” he said.
Sorrells said his patrol officers will first warn people, but will cite them if they continue to travel slowly in the left lane.
Dodd said his officers are going to educate the public before they start- ing tearing off tickets.
“I’m ordering my guys to give warnings for July to tell people about the law,” he said.
County officers will start writing tickets for impeding traffic flow beginning August 1. The fee for that traffic citation is $75.
Another law going into effect is to promote renewing a driver’s license online. The law allows drivers to use their online receipt as a valid driver’s license until they get the real one in the mail.
Sorrells and Dodd see it as a way to reduce lines at driver’s services offices and are training their officers on the new law. Moats is also training his deputies to acknowledge the law, but believes it is dubious and will cause more problems than it solves.