Georgia Media Overlook Move To Dangerously Expand State's “Stand Your Ground Law”

In reporting on an omnibus gun bill in the Georgia legislature, state media have largely overlooked that the legislation would expand the state's “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law to allow those in illegal possession of firearms to avail themselves of the law's defenses and immunity provision.

House Bill 875, which would weaken Georgia's already lax gun laws in several ways including allowing guns in churches and bars, has garnered significant media attention in Georgia. The latest development involved a procedural move by Georgia House Republicans to force a vote on the bill in the Senate amid worries by House Republicans that the Senate version of H.B. 875 would remove several of the House Republican's provisions.

While the media has devoted significant attention to the issue of allowing guns in churches and bars, and the decision of House Republicans to eliminate a provision that would decriminalize the carrying of guns on campuses as part of its procedural move to force the Senate's hand, it has largely overlooked the provision in H.B. 875 that significantly expands Georgia's “Stand Your Ground” law.

Under current Georgia law, individuals claiming immunity from prosecution under “Stand Your Ground” must be complying with Georgia gun laws when they use their firearm.

However under H.B. 875, “Stand Your Ground” claimants would no longer be required to have been in compliance with Chapter 11, Article 4, Part 3 of Georgia's criminal code. That part of Georgia's code includes provisions on carrying weapons on school grounds, carrying a handgun without a license, the possession of firearms by convicted felons, the possession of handguns by minors, and the discharging of a firearm “while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

Georgia media have largely overlooked this significant change in law that could grant legal immunity to individuals who possess guns illegally.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published at least 21 news reports and opinion pieces about H.B. 875 since the beginning of the legislative section on January 14. None of the articles have mentioned “Stand Your Ground” as it relates to the legislation, according to a Nexis search. In six articles on H.B. 875 in The Macon Telegraph, just one mentioned “Stand Your Ground.” H.B. 875 was never mentioned in The Augusta Chronicle. A search of the Savannah Morning News website -- the paper is not in Nexis -- found several news items about H.B. 875, but none mentioning “Stand Your Ground.” The Morning News, did however publish an opinion piece from Lucia McBath -- whose son Jordan Davis was killed by a man whose lawyer claimed he acted in self-defense under Florida's “Stand Your Ground” law -- that explained how H.B. 875 would expand “Stand Your Ground” in Georgia.

A TV Eyes review of dozens of mentions of H.B. 875 in the Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, and Savannah television markets found a similar deficit in coverage since the bill was introduced on February 18. When H.B. 875 was discussed the focus was typically on its guns in bars, schools, and churches provisions, not “Stand Your Ground.” In just two instances discussions of H.B. 875 mentioned “Stand Your Ground.” 11 Alive, a local NBC affiliate, mentioned a letter from gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns in opposition to H.B. 875 because of its expansion of “Stand Your Ground” in a March 5 news report. On February 25, WAGA, a Fox affiliate, broadcast a segment that featured an opponent of H.B. 875 noting that the bill “affects 'Stand Your Ground' law.”

However in a March 11 report from 11 Alive, a reporter falsely challenged McBath with the claim, “Some lawmakers who are pushing this bill think that you're bringing to the table an argument against 'Stand Your Ground.' This is not 'Stand Your Ground.' This is a bill that gives, that supports the constitutionality of a property owner being able to decide who can bring a gun on to a property or not. I mean that's legitimate. So it's not 'Stand Your Ground.' How do you rebut that?”