America is facing an “epidemic of gun violence,” state Sen. Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek, said Friday at a press conference called by the Democratic Party of Georgia in response to the recent mass shootings.
“It keeps happening and sometimes it feels like it never stops,” Au said.
In March of last year, eight people, including six Asian-American women, were killed in an attack on spas in metro Atlanta. Au said the attack “rocked the nation’s Asian-American community to its core.”
Michael Webb’s former wife, Xiaojie Tan, was one of the women killed.
Webb – who said he is a gun owner and not a liberal or even a Democrat – called for “common-sense gun control and gun safety” measures like waiting periods to take possession of a firearm after purchase.
“I feel reasonably confident – knowing the evidence – that the mother of my daughter would be alive had there just been a three or a five-day waiting period,” said Webb. “We have it in other states.”
Webb said he also supports universal background checks and making it more difficult to purchase assault weapons. Assault weapons are “made to kill people – they’re not made for sport,” he said.
Robert Peterson, the youngest son of another woman killed in the attack, Yong Ae Yue, criticized Georgia’s new permit-less carry law, which Gov. Brian Kemp signed last month.
The new law “makes us all less safe,” Peterson said. “It removes the crucial step of needing to pass a background check before being allowed to carry a concealed gun in public.”
Advocates of the permit-less measure contend otherwise.
“Criminals do not care about a carry permit,” state Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, the bill’s chief sponsor, said during a debate on the bill in the Senate during this year’s legislative session.
The new permit-less carry law “makes sure that law-abiding Georgians … can protect themselves without having to ask permission from state government,” Kemp said when he signed the bill in April.
Au, a doctor who also holds a master’s degree in public health, argued that gun violence should be treated as a public health issue that requires layered, multifocal solutions.
“We have to come at it from a lot of different ways because there are a lot of different reasons that people are victims of gun violence, including things like mental health issues, suicide … .domestic violence,” she said. “Mass shootings … tend to get the most attention.”
State Rep. Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville, echoed Au’s perspective, saying, “This should not be a partisan issue. This should not be a political issue. This is a public safety issue.”
The frequent mass shootings are the results of policy choices, Park said.
“With good public policies … we can ensure and protect our constitutional rights, but also protect lives,” he said.
Park is running for reelection to the Georgia House this fall.
Au expressed frustration at how Republican leaders in the Georgia General Assembly have prevented discussion of gun law reforms.
Park and Au introduced bills this year that would have required a five-day waiting period after purchasing certain weapons. Au also introduced a bill that would have required universal background checks.
“Not only have the bills not passed and been signed into law, they’ve been blocked to the point that they haven’t even been given the courtesy of being heard in committee,” Au said. “They won’t even let us discuss the bills.”
Despite the challenges, Au and Park said they and others would keep advocating for reforms, with plans to introduce bills requiring universal background checks, waiting periods, and safe gun storage during the next session.
Au said such measures are supported by a majority of Georgians.
“We are not going to give up because the environment around gun safety is changing,” she said.
Au now is running for the Georgia House of Representatives. She chose to give up her Senate seat after redistricting made it much more favorable to the GOP.
“With each successive tragedy … people are going to demand that our leaders start to at least have this conversation in public about passing, or at least discussing, common-sense gun safety legislation,” said Au, who has emerged as a leading Democratic voice on this issue in the past few years.
In response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday, Kemp noted that Georgia has sponsored school safety trainings and threat assessments. He also highlighted funding for school mental health programs in Georgia, including $6 million allotted for a student mental health initiative.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.