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What is a gun?

By now you know most Georgia gun laws because you’ve been paying rapt attention to my columns over the years. Thus you know that in order to carry a handgun somewhere other than your property, business or car, you generally are going to need a Georgia Weapons Carry License. Sure there are some hunting and fishing exceptions, because we all need a ha4c4912f1da687ndgun to go fishing, but other than that, you probably need a GWCL to carry a handgun, right? If you said, yes, give yourself a gold star.

But, what is a handgun? Aha, not so easy, huh? Our forefathers said the “right to bear arms shall not be infringed”, but they didn’t define “arms.” Why? Because they knew what it meant. But they were smarter than us, so now we have a Legislature to define things for us. In OCGA Sec. 16-11-125.1 it says in (1) “Handgun” means a firearm of any description, loaded or unloaded, from which any shot, bullet, or other missile can be discharged by an action of an explosive where the length of the barrel, not including any revolving, detachable, or magazine breech, does not exceed 12 inches; provided, however, that the term “handgun” shall not include a gun which discharges a single shot of .46 centimeters or less in diameter.”

Easy peasy. So let’s say you have a AR-15 (no, it doesn’t mean Automatic or Assault Rifle, it stands for Armalite Rifle, a style developed in the 1950s). You convert it to a pistol grip. Does the pistol grip mean it’s now a handgun under Georgia law? Nope. The barrel still exceeds 12 inches, so it’s not a handgun, it’s a long gun.

But what’s a long gun? It’s also defined in 125.1(4) “Long gun” means a firearm with a barrel length of at least 18 inches and overall length of at least 26 inches designed or made and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or made to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed:  (A) Shotgun shell to fire through a smooth bore either a number of ball shot or a single projectile for each single pull of the trigger or from which any shot, bullet, or other missile can be discharged; or (B) Metallic cartridge to fire only a single projectile through a rifle bore for each single pull of the trigger; provided, however, that the term “long gun” shall not include a gun which discharges a single shot of .46 centimeters or less in diameter.”

Adding a fun twist, Georgia then gives us this definition in OCGA Sec. 16-11-121 (4) “Sawed-off rifle” means a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder; and designed or redesigned, made or remade, to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed metallic cartridge to fire only a single projectile through a rifle bore for each single pull of the trigger; and which has a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length or has an overall length of less than 26 inches

So a handgun is a 12” or less barrel, and legal. A gun between 12 to 16 inches is an illegal “sawed off rifle” and a legal long gun is something 18” or longer. Lots of folks have an AR with a 14.5” barrel, but that appears to be illegal in Georgia. Not sure that anyone really cares though.

You, being a careful reader, are saying, “Hey, what about a 16” barrel?” I have no idea what Georgia does about a firearm with a 16” barrel. Federal law recognizes every size firearm, but Georgia has this weird no man’s land where a 16” to 17,.9” barrel resides. Many AR’s fall in this range. Putting a pistol grip on an AR doesn’t change its definition, but a barrel modification might bring it into, or out of, Georgia legal compliance.

Since all I’ve done is confuse you at this point, I might as well mention that under OCGA 16-11-127.1, Georgia uses a totally different definition of a weapon for school purposes. That, however, is for another day. And “.46 centimeter or less”, what does that mean? That, folks, is a BB. BB guns are not illegal in Georgia. Yet.

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