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Georgia Attorney General Takes Aim at Savannah Gun Ordinance

 May 7, 2024

Savannah's new ordinance requiring firearms in vehicles to be locked is now under legal scrutiny by Georgia's Attorney General.

Georgia's top legal authority, Attorney General Chris Carr, asserts that Savannah's recent city ordinance clashes with state law and predicts imminent legal challenges over local gun safety rules, as Fox News reports.

In an effort to curb gun thefts, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and the city council enacted an ordinance in April that mandates vehicles to be locked if they contain firearms. The measure aims to address the city's high incidence of gun thefts from vehicles.

Mayor Johnson, who is also a former police officer, backed the ordinance as a way to foster responsible gun ownership. The city council echoed this sentiment, passing the measure unanimously on April 11.

With expressions of support from city leaders, no objections were raised during the public comment period at City Hall, reflecting broad local backing for the initiative.

Attorney General Raises Concerns over State Preemption

However, this local initiative has not gone without challenge. Carr, a Republican, issued a letter to Savannah officials warning that the ordinance infringes on state laws that restrict local governments from regulating firearms.

"Because the General Assembly has expressly designated the regulation of firearms as an issue of general, state-wide concern, no local ordinance can regulate firearms," Carr stated in his letter.

The letter also suggests that past Georgia court decisions have struck down similar local efforts to control gun ownership, pointing to a likely unfavorable outcome for the city's ordinance.

Legal Actions and Potential Consequences

Adding to the controversy, a lawsuit was recently filed in Chatham County Superior Court by a frequent visitor to Savannah, aiming to block the ordinance's enforcement. This legal action underscores the contentious nature of the debate surrounding local versus state control over gun regulations.

Carr further cautioned that enforcing the ordinance could expose city officials to civil liabilities, recommending that the city consider rescinding the law to avoid these risks.

Despite the attorney general's warnings, Mayor Johnson has remained firm. "We certainly encourage our citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights, but this ordinance remains in effect and will continue to be enforced," he declared.

Impact on Local Police and Community Safety

Savannah police have reported a troubling trend of guns stolen from vehicles, with 244 firearms reported stolen last year alone, most from unlocked cars.

This year continues to show alarming figures, with 56 out of 69 gun thefts so far involving unlocked vehicles. The ordinance was partly a response to these statistics, aiming to mitigate such thefts by encouraging vehicle owners to secure their firearms.

Advocates for the ordinance had previously attempted to pass a state law that would offer a $300 tax credit for gun safety measures like locks and safes, though this proposal failed to gain traction in the state legislature.

The Debate Over Gun Safety and Local Autonomy

The conflict between Savannah's city government and the state attorney general highlights a broader debate over local versus state control in the regulation of firearms.

This debate is not unique to Georgia, as similar conflicts have occurred across the United States, reflecting differing views on how best to handle gun safety while respecting the rights of gun owners.

As the legal battle looms, both sides remain entrenched in their positions, setting the stage for a significant judicial interpretation of state versus local powers in the regulation of firearms.

Conclusion: A Local Solution to a National Issue?

The case of Savannah's gun ordinance reflects a local government's attempt to tackle gun safety issues within its own borders, amid broader national debates on gun control.

While the ordinance aims to reduce gun thefts, it also tests the limits of local authority in the face of state law. As this legal confrontation unfolds, it will likely set important precedents for how similar cases are handled in Georgia and possibly beyond.