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Georgia’s attorney general says Savannah overstepped in outlawing guns in unlocked cars

May 6, 2024, 9:12 AM

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Georgia’s attorney general says city officials in Savannah overstepped their authority by making it illegal to leave firearms in unlocked cars.

Savannah’s mayor and city council in April enacted the new city ordinance aimed at making it harder for criminals to steal guns, citing local police statistics showing more than 200 guns reported stolen last year from vehicles that weren’t locked. The law carries maximum penalties of a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail.

State Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican, said in a letter to Savannah officials Friday that the gun ordinance runs afoul of a state law that prohibits local governments from regulating “the possession, ownership, transport, (or) carrying” of 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 wrote.

Carr’s letter foreshadows a likely court battle over whether city governments like Savannah’s can impose gun safety measures that have received little support in a state legislature dominated by Republicans. A lawsuit filed in Chatham Count Superior Court last week by a man described as frequent visitor to Savannah asks a judge to halt enforcement of the city’s gun ordinance.

Savannah’s city council voted unanimously April 11 to require parked vehicles to be locked when guns are stored inside and to require people to report gun thefts to police within 24 hours. No one spoke against the ordinance during a public comment period at City Hall, where it was supported by members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Mayor Van Johnson, a Democrat and a former police officer, has previously said the ordinance aims to make gun owners act responsibly without infringing on their Second Amendment rights. He did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment made to a City Hall spokesperson.

According to Savannah police, there were 244 guns reported stolen from vehicles last year and 203 of them were taken from unlocked cars. Police have reported a similar number so far this year, with 56 of 69 thefts coming from unlocked cars.

Before Savannah took action, gun control advocates earlier this year failed to persuade state lawmakers to adopt a $300 state income tax credit to pay for gun locks, gun safes and safety classes.

In his letter, Carr noted that Georgia courts have struck down prior gun restrictions imposed by local governments. He cited a 2007 ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals that overturned a Coweta County ordinance prohibiting firearms at sports fields and other recreational facilities operated by the county.

Carr’s letter warned city officials they could face civil liability for enforcing it.

“Given this concern alone, it appears that the City should give immediate consideration to rescinding its approval” of the gun ordinance, Carr said.

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Georgia’s attorney general says Savannah overstepped in outlawing guns in unlocked cars