Let me run some numbers by you. 152: The number of children who died in 2012 in Georgia, despite the intervention of the state’s Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS). 13: The number of children who died in 2012 while in foster care. Zero: The number of people who died in shootouts in a house of worship in our state during the same period. 152 to 13 to zero. So what is the hot-button issue in this session of the General Assembly? Guns for God, of course. HB 875, authored by Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper.)
Jasperse and his posse have decided to solve a problem that doesn’t exist with a solution that polls show most Georgians don’t want. The Gainesville Times described this conundrum precisely in a recent editorial: "So why are lawmakers preoccupied with guns instead of more important priorities? Two likely reasons. One, the gun lobby is powerful and influential and lawmakers seek its money and support. And two, it’s an election year, when officeholders play to voters with those ‘hey, look at me’ hot-button issues aimed more at gaining political attention than solving real problems." I couldn’t agree more. Special interests are alive and well under the Gold Dome.
I have been told that there is more going on at the General Assembly than just Guns for God, including an effort to address the above-mentioned child welfare issues, but that the media seems to want to focus on Guns for God because it is an easy target. I don’t disagree. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. (Oops! Did I just say that? Shame on me.)
In the defense of the media, when you are as duplicitous as supporters of HB 875, you invite this kind of scrutiny. Where else would you learn about some of the wink-wink, nod-nod stuff going on, if not from the media?
Remember the provision in the legislation to allow concealed weapons on college campuses? Lawmakers wanted to put the burden on institution presidents to make the decision as to whether or not to permit weapons on their campuses. Legislative counsel said this was unconstitutional.
So what did the bill’s proponents do? They opened the back door.
Licensed carriers caught with concealed weapons on public campuses would not be subject to arrest and would face a civil fine of no more than $100. Veteran political observer Jim Galloway, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, calls it "a pin prick compared to the cost of speeding through a school zone." Maybe HB 875 will allow us to shoot speeders in school zones. I must remember to ask.
While many religious organizations oppose the measure, Guns for God has the blessings of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
Their spokesman, Mike Griffin, calls it a "sanctity of human life issue." I have a clever rejoinder, but I shall refrain. Baptists stay pretty cranky with me because I enjoy twitting them over their stance on women preachers. I discovered long ago that Baptists don’t have much of a sense of humor and I sure don’t want to mess with them if they are locked-and-loaded. It’s a sanctity of human life issue. Mine.
In the meantime, it is encouraging that some legislators are looking at more substantive matters like child abuse. Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville) is leading an effort to allow the public more information on child abuse cases. Local Child Fatality Review Panels are charged with, among other things, investigating children’s deaths related to abuse, but with varying degrees of success. Rep. Coomer’s legislation, which has bipartisan support (applause!) would place the panels under the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to give the investigations more muscle and us more information and perhaps stir us to action to prevent more children’s deaths.
On the Senate side, a more complex issue is developing over the possible privatization of child welfare in Georgia. Sen. Fran Millar’s (R-Dunwoody) bill would contract out a number of services currently provided by DFCS to private companies, primarily nonprofits. Melissa Carter, head of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University and an expert on protecting the rights of children says further research is needed before we go that route. We shall see.
I will have more to say on this subject in coming weeks. In the interim, suffice it to say that taking care of children who can’t take care of themselves is infinitely more important than toting guns to church. Can I get an amen?
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.