Gun-toting in Georgia 

How I learned to stop worrying and love carrying my gun

If you intend to rob me, stab me or punch me in the neck because you think I looked at you funny, I recommend you glance at my waist before lifting the pull tab on that can of whoop-ass.

I may be carrying a handgun.

Nearly everyone in our state can legally keep guns in their home. I am one of the few, the proud, the Georgia Firearms Licensed – one of a reported 300,000 Georgians permitted to carry a gun in public.

Unlike the 9.2 million-or-so Peach Staters who do not possess firearms licenses, I'm legally permitted to carry a gun pretty much everywhere I go – walking my dogs, sipping a latte at my neighborhood coffee shop, buying deodorant at Target.

Firearms licenses are easy to get in Georgia. All you need is a clean criminal record, about $40 and a couple of hours to spend at your county's probate court.

If you're married, you may already be familiar with probate court. It's also the place that issues marriage licenses. In fact, when you call the Fulton County Probate Court the recorded message actually says "For information about marriage licenses, please press one. For information about firearms licenses, please press two." Romantic, eh?

I got my gun license a year and a half ago after I was relieved of my wallet at gunpoint at my front door by a man who threatened to come back for me if I cancelled my ATM and credit cards.

Since he was clearly comfortable dropping by the house unannounced, police told me to take the threat seriously by carrying a gun myself.

I've had handguns for target shooting since I was a kid, but never carried one for self-defense. After the robbery, I applied for a permit so I could carry a gun without breaking the law. And even before the license arrived, I started to carry my gun from my driveway to my front door, which is legal; I was scared the guy would keep his promise and come back for me.

As it turned out he was arrested a couple of weeks later, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

When my permit arrived in the mail, I stuck it in my wallet and pretty much forgot about it. I didn't start carrying a weapon. He was in jail and I moved to a less transitional neighborhood. I felt safe again.

Nearly everyone I spend time with regularly has a visceral and fearful reaction to guns. Having so many gun-dreading friends and acquaintances has taught me to keep guns where no one will ever see them. Carrying a gun in public seemed like peeing in the sink of a public restroom. Not illegal, but definitely a first-degree jerk move.

I was also afraid of the reaction of strangers. I would hate to be the subject of this 911 call: "Hello, police, I'm at the Publix on North Decatur Road and there's a swarthy bald man here with a gun. He's headed for the Lean Cuisine."

So, although I had a permit, I was less than thrilled that the General Assembly passed H.B. 89 in April. The new law would give licensed firearms permit holders the right to legally carry guns into places that used to be off-limits: city and state parks, public transportation, and restaurants that serve alcohol.

It seemed to me that the law encouraged colossal dickheadedness by legalizing behavior – carrying guns openly in public – that makes people nervous.

Under the new law, I could now legally take my gun into a restaurant that served alcohol – which includes places many consider bars, such as the Earl or Manuel's Tavern. I could Rollerblade in Piedmont Park while packing heat. I could even take a gun on MARTA.

Imagine if someone with a firearms license walked onto a MARTA train with a shotgun. He couldn't be arrested, even though someone can be ticketed for eating on a train.

"So I just want to be clear," I asked MARTA police Chief Wanda Dunham. "If I had a turkey sandwich in one hand and a gun in the other hand, MARTA police would ticket me for the turkey sandwich?"

"If you're eating it," she replied. "Only if you're eating it."

Someone with a permit can board a MARTA train with a shotgun?

"That's what the law says," she replied. Then, with sarcasm, she adds, "It just gives you that warm fuzzy feeling."

The law, which was passed in the last hours of the Legislature, drew sharp criticism from anti-gun organizations. Brian Siebel, senior attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, says there will likely be more violence at places guns were once prohibited.

He points out that Timothy McVeigh and Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech killer, both would have qualified for a firearm's license that allows you to carry a gun openly. "Just because you get a driver's license doesn't mean you're a good driver," he says. "People who engage in road rage probably all have a driver's license."

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