With the prospect of a major storm event on the horizon for much of Florida, Georgians are welcoming thousands of friends, relatives, and those in need into their cities, towns, and homes. Floridians evacuating to Georgia will all find a warm welcome; those who lawfully own and carry firearms, in particular, will be happy to learn they have nothing to fear from Georgia law if they travel into our state with their firearms—if they are armed with the right knowledge.
To begin, let’s make perfectly clear: Florida’s 2015 “Emergency Concealed Carry” law, enacted to allow individuals without a Florida firearms license to carry concealed while evacuating during a mandatory evacuation or state of emergency, DOES NOT APPLY IN GEORGIA. This law certainly protects Florida’s residents as they prepare to evacuate their families and belongings, but does not reach into Georgia. When in Georgia, Florida residents must follow Georgia law, and ignorance of that law is no excuse (that’s part of the law, too!).
Here’s the good news: Georgia’s possession and carry laws are friendly to the lawful gun owner. Georgia shares firearms-license reciprocity with Florida; so, if you validly possess a Florida CWFL, you may possess a firearm (including revolvers, semi-automatic pistols, rifles, shotguns, and knives with blades longer than 12 inches) in Georgia.
You may carry them openly or concealed, and in any public or private location without prior permission, save for certain locations mandated by law (courthouses, jails, mental health facilities, government buildings with law-enforcement screening, etc.). Virtually any place open to the public is safe for open or concealed carry. Signs in private establishments (bars, restaurants, hotels) prohibiting the carrying of firearms do not necessarily have the force of law, but if you are barred entry or asked to leave by the owner or person in legal control of the property, you must do so, or risk arrest for criminal trespass.
What if you don’t have a Florida CWFL, but you still possess firearms lawfully, meaning
—You are not a felon or First Offender probationer,
—Have no convictions for domestic violence-related crimes, and
—Are over the age of 18 (for handgun owners only; there is no minimum-age requirement for possession of rifles or shotguns in Georgia law).
Those who may lawfully possess a firearm, but do NOT have a CWFL or Georgia Weapons Carry License, may still carry in Georgia inside his or her “home, motor vehicle, or place of business without a valid weapons carry license.” (See O.C.G.A. §16-11-126)
This means our Florida friends and family may carry firearms into the state without a license. Those possessing a firearm in a car without a license must (a) be otherwise eligible for a license, and (b) have the permission of the owner of the vehicle.
Additionally, carry of a handgun or long gun without a license is permitted when the firearm is enclosed in a case and unloaded (“unloaded” meaning no round in the chamber for semi-auto, no round in the cylinder for revolvers), and carry of a long gun, concealed or openly, is always permissible without a license for an individual who may otherwise legally possess a firearm. But if the long gun is loaded (round in the chamber), it must be carried openly.
For those who find themselves stopping over in a hotel, hotel rooms are considered your “habitation”: previous cases in Georgia have established that, because you obtain the use of a hotel room and exclude all others from entry, it qualifies as a habitation (See Hammock v. State, 277 Ga. 612, 616 (2004)).
Evacuating from Georgia
For Georgians who may be required to evacuate, keep in mind, you are lawful to carry in your home, motor vehicle, and place of business. Your home will be wherever you find yourself in Georgia, but the rules for lawful carry still apply.
Nothing changes for those with Weapons Carry Licenses, and because lawful gun owners without a license may carry in their motor vehicles, they, too, can evacuate knowing their firearms are safe.
It’s important to realize, however, that evacuation into another state means you must follow the laws within that state. Georgia maintains firearms reciprocity with Alabama, Tennessee, and both North and South Carolina, so Georgia Weapons Carry Licenses are recognized in those states, but the laws in those states prevail.
Keep in mind also that federal law (the Firearm Owners Protection Act) protects lawful gun owners who travel state to state by allowing firearms possession through any state from your state of origin to final destination, so long as your journey begins and ends in states where your possession is legal; the firearm is unloaded and locked in the trunk or made inaccessible from the passenger compartment (no glove boxes or compartments!); and the ammunition is likewise separate from the firearm and locked in the trunk.
Wherever you may travel, make sure you research your destination, and be sure to call U.S. LawShield for assistance. —by Matt Kilgo, Independent Program Attorney for U.S. LawShield of Georgia