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Posted: January 3, 2012 8:24 a.m.

New gun licenses add security, costs

Georgia pistol-packing permits aren't published on paper any more.

In recent weeks, local probate court offices have been processing Georgia weapons carry licenses on a new system, which will produce cards that look something like a driver's license with a photo, holographic seals and other security features. The old paper licenses are much more basic.

Jerry Henry, executive director of GeorgiaCarry.Org, said the new licenses at least look better.

"The remark I hear most often is the existing ones could be made by a fourth-grader and a crayon," said Henry, who lives outside Fairburn. He said he objects to the need for the licenses to exercise a Second Amendment right, but believes the newer licenses will make it easier for Georgians to carry a firearm into 25 other states because the new licenses look legitimate.

But the state requirement for the new licenses is putting additional strains on county governments. Bibb County Probate Judge William J. Self got $7,332 worth of new equipment, including four computers, to handle the needed software. But counties now lose $7 in revenue that gets paid to a vendor that makes the licenses. The old licenses were made in courthouses.

"They gave us no more money, put a whole lot more work on us, cost us money, but we have to pay it," Self told commissioners in December.

Baldwin County Probate Judge Todd Blackwell said the cost to counties will vary depending on how much equipment they need. Some courts spent as little as $280 for a bundle of things including a camera and signature recorder, which were added to an existing computer.

"Each county has to look at their own setup to determine, do they have enough resources in their office to utilize those bundles? And many of them do," he said.

Other counties needed more than one of those kits, and new computers to go with them. Blackwell said he put the kit on a new $700 laptop, leaving Baldwin County spending about $1,000 to meet the new requirements.

As president of the Council of Probate Court Judges, Blackwell also participated in negotiations for the new licenses. They may be more helpful when deputies check them or when license holders use them as identification to buy another gun, he said. Because the $75 license fee includes a $40 background check, the licenses allow holders to skip another background check when they buy a gun.

Officials said they didn't know of any case in which the current paper licenses had been faked.

"We're not aware of any forged licenses," Blackwell said. "The Legislature decided this was the route that we needed to go for security purposes."

In most probate courts, recent applications have been processed on the new system, which means they'll arrive as the new licenses after background checks and processing are completed in January.

Court officials reported no problems.

Houston County Probate Judge Janice D. Spires said her office was able to reuse a computer and keep costs down. She expected to process some 2,300 applications in 2011, but said customers getting the new license have been patient.

"They're just as understanding of the new system," she said.

The licenses expire after five years.

Self said the new licenses will cost the county more money in processing costs, but the end result is more useful.

"The little paper license, even though we laminated it and issued it, was really not helpful to law enforcement in terms of identifying the person," he said.

Crawford County Probate Clerk Andrea Peterman said the new license should improve security for all.

"The old way was just too easy to duplicate," she said. "All it took was a typewriter, a decent word processing program and a $25 store-bought laminator, and you could basically duplicate them. If an officer or gun dealer wasn't looking closely, then they're going to allow a convicted felon to have a firearm unknowingly."

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