Letter to Chief Justice Melton

JOHN R. MONROE

JOHN MONROE LAW, P.C.

                                                                              March 27, 2020

The Hon. Harold D. Melton, Chief Justice Supreme Court of Georgia
330 Capitol Avenue, SE
Atlanta, GA  30334

RE:  Constitutional Implication of Judicial Emergency

Dear Chief Justice Melton:

I hope my letter finds you well during these difficult times.

I am writing you regarding a constitutional issue that has arisen as an indirect result of your declaration of a judicial emergency.  As you know, Georgia law prohibits carrying a weapon outside one’s home, automobile, or place of business without a license.  O.C.G.A. § 16-11-126.  Handguns are defined to be weapons.  O.C.G.A. § 16-11-125.1.  The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects a fundamental, individual right to keep and carry arms in case of confrontation, and that the handgun is the quintessential arm for self- defense in America.  Your Court ruled in Nunn v. State that any provision of law banning the carrying of handguns openly is unconstitutional and void.  I submit that the licensing requirement in Georgia normally only comports with our Constitutions because of the (prior to the emergency) relative ease and low cost of obtaining a license.

The Council of Probate Judges has determined, pursuant to your declaration, that the issuance of weapons carry licenses pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 16-11-129 is a non-essential function.  As a result, the probate judges around the state are neither accepting nor processing applications for licenses.  The probate judges have determined that your declaration automatically extends the expiration dates of licenses, so renewals of licenses is not an immediate issue.

On the other hand, a Georgian wishing to obtain a new license is unable to do so.  He is faced with a statute requiring a license to carry a handgun in public and a sheer impossibility of even applying for a license, let alone obtaining one.  Even though he has state and federal constitutional rights to carry a handgun in case of confrontation, Georgia has essentially banned him from doing so.  The de facto ban appears to conflict with the Second Amendment and Georgia’s constitutional analog (Art. I, Sec. I, Par.VIII).

I have considered a variety of possible solutions to the problem, and I keep returning to what appears to be the simplest, easiest, and most straightforward: suspend enforcement of O.C.G.A. § 1611-126 for the duration of the emergency.

There are several factors supporting the suspension.  First, it would hardly be novel in our federal system.  The large majority of states do not prohibit carrying a handgun openly without a license.  In fact, a large minority of states do not even prohibit carrying a handgun concealed without a license.  The system “works” in those states without any apparent issues.

Second, the crime of carrying a weapon without a license is only malum prohibitum.  There is no inherent evil in going armed.

Third, if a person commits a crime with a firearm, such as robbery or murder, he still would be fully criminally liable for those actions.

The risk to public safety is therefore low in suspending enforcement, and the risk of not suspending enforcement is ongoing violation of Georgians’ constitutional rights on a widespread basis.

I already have asked Gov. Kemp to use his emergency powers to suspend enforcement of O.C.G.A. § 16-11-126 for the duration of the emergency (a copy of the letter to Gov. Kemp is enclosed/attached for your convenience).  I have discussed the issue with the Governor’s office, but to date he has not acted on the request.  I am hopeful that if you join me in encouraging Gov. Kemp to act, we can address this problem and abate it quickly.

Thank you for your attention.  I would be happy to discuss this matter with you further.

Sincerely,

John R. Monroe

156 Robert Jones Road     Dawsonville, Georgia 30534

678 362 7650                            jrm@johnmonroelaw.com

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