By Maggie Lee
Can you claim self-defense if you shoot someone running from your home clutching your flat-screen TV? Can you shoot someone who kicks in the front door and attacks you with a baseball bat?
The answers might surprise you.
The answer to the first question is a solid “no.” The second is a sure “yes.” And in between is a large, grey area.
And that’s the rub. Sandy Springs police often hear a barrage of these tricky sorts of questions when they hold free workshops on Georgia’s gun laws.
Officers Anthony Eskew and Larry Jacobs convened the latest of these meetings in December at Sandy Springs Gun Club and Range in north Sandy Springs. The classes typically comprise 15 people at a time to keep them manageable.
The courses are all the rage too – there’s a six-month waiting list. City resident Ron Hurley knows quite a bit about handling firearms from his military days, and calls the police class a “good refresher.” But he, along with other attendees, had some very specific questions about the law. Eskew explained the legal principles about when people can and can’t use force, and what kind of force is legal and appropriate.
“Self-defense is why police want people to have guns,” Eskew explained. And by a show of raised hands, all the students want to be armed for just that reason.
But the “self” part of “self-defense” is very important. It is only legal to use a firearm against someone in order to protect yourself or other humans from murder or forcible felonies: rape, armed robbery or armed assault.
That’s why it’s illegal to shoot the thief slipping out of the house with a TV, Eskew said. If the thief is simply retreating, not brandishing deadly force, it’s not legal to shoot. To protect property, it’s only okay to use simple force: punch, tackle or a stun gun.
But it’s more difficult to judge an attacker’s intent and ability – to tell if he is able, close enough and clearly intends to put a life in jeopardy or cause serious bodily harm.
Call for classes
To receive a schedule of gun classes available to the public, contact Officer Larry Jacobs at 770-551-3328 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For that reason, except for a few very clear-cut scenarios, the officers couldn’t say definitively what a court might find legal.
Student Joe Rude said he “didn’t know about the laws.” His wife Carolyn added that in her neighborhood watch group, a lot of legal questions like this come up. “We have some of the most liberal gun laws in the country,” Eskew said. But they are also very often amended, he said. So people need to keep up with changes, too.
For example, Georgia concealed weapon permits are only recognized in some states – presently most of the Southern states. However, that could change at any time.
A new state law this year was supposed to clarify where guns are allowed in public. But the law still limits firearms in “public gatherings,” a term with a lot of ambiguity.
Not a lot else is clear about firearm regulations in general.
For instance, a political rally is a public gathering, therefore, no firearms would be allowed. However, people milling around on a sunny day in an Atlanta city park isn’t considered a public gathering.
A Sandy Springs public park is off-limits to anyone carrying a firearm per city ordinance, though that’s under legal review for possibly being an illegal restriction on gun carriers.
After an hour of class, the officers escorted the students onto the gun range to work on the fundamentals of shooting: stance and aim.
While waiting a turn in the well-appointed viewing gallery, Cara Lovino said “so far it’s been great … I bought a gun and I’ve wanted to feel like I know how to handle it.”