Georgia’s Legislature gives special privileges to certain folks when it comes to carrying a weapon. While most of you are ineligible to carry a “weapon” (handgun or knife with blade greater than 5″), some of you have taken the time and trouble to get a Georgia Weapons Carry License at the probate court so that you can carry a handgun outside of your home, business or car. Statistics (one of my few A’s at Georgia Tech) tell us that 5% of y’all have gone through that process. Assuming that statistic to be accurate, 95% of you haven’t bothered. And I understand your reluctance to apply because the Georgia Code says that to get a GWCL, you must possess “good moral character.” Who wants to take a chance on hearing that they don’t have good moral character?
Now what constitutes good moral character? Having been convicted of a felony is a disqualification itself, so that isn’t part of the criteria. If one gets a pardon, and specially asks for a restoration of gun rights, then one is no longer disqualified from getting a GWCL, but what if the judge said that the applicant is still not of “good moral character”? How could you argue with that? I don’t know, the Georgia Code is silent on what happens next.
How about if you supported the probate judge’s opponent in the last election? Could the judge point out that you said some scandalous things about the judge, things that weren’t true, and thus you are “not of good moral character”? I’m not sure how you argue with that, other than to file a suit alleging that the judge is failing to do his or her duty. But isn’t “good moral character” subjective anyway? (To be clear, this is NOT at all about Judge Spires, Houston County’s probate judge, who I say is the best probate judge in the world.)
Let’s say that you are on welfare or food stamps? Does that make you unworthy of a gun license? I can’t think of a reason why it would, but not everybody is as reasonable as me. I’ve heard of folks who give food stamp users a hard time in the grocery store, so there are some who might argue that failing to provide for one’s self and family means one is not of “good moral character.” It’s a pretty loose term after all.
There are some, even here in Houston County, who say that openly carrying a gun is indicative of mental illness. Don’t believe me, Google it! I don’t open carry, but mostly that’s vanity because I assume that people who look at me are taken aback by my height and good looks. If I had a gun on my hip, I’d assume that they are just looking at it, which would crush my fragile ego. Is carrying a gun openly a sign of “good moral character”? It appears that is left up to the judge.
There’s the whole Ten Commandments test we could use for our “good moral character” test, but who would pass that? And if you think you’re perfect as far as the Ten Commandments, I suggest you go back and read them again.
Were I in the Legislature, meaning the voters had lost their collective minds, I’d remove that good moral character language from GWCL qualifications, if for no other reason than legislators ought to be eligible for a GWCL too.
Next week, The Special Ones, Part 2.
Kelly Burke, master attorney, former district attorney and magistrate judge, is engaged in private practice. He focuses on personal injury cases and corporate litigation. These articles are not designed to give legal advice, but are designed to inform the public about how the law affects their daily lives. Contact Kelly at to comment on this article or suggest articles about the law that you’d like to see.