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Abrams tries to flip script on guns and crime in Georgia

by The Associated Press | June 21, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.
This combination of 2022 and 2021 photos shows Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, left, and gubernatorial Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams. As Republicans nationwide gear up to attack Democrats with tough-on-crime platforms in the fall of 2022, Democrat Abrams is making guns a central focus of her race for governor, seeking to turn crime into a liability for incumbent Republican Kemp's reelection bid. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

By JEFF AMY and RUSS BYNUM

Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) -- As Republicans nationwide gear up to attack Democrats with tough-on-crime platforms this fall, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams is making guns a central focus of her race for governor, seeking to turn crime into a liability for incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp's reelection bid.

Abrams made tightening Georgia's gun laws a big part of a public safety plan she released Thursday, proposing to reverse multiple laws that Georgia Republicans have enacted since 2014 loosening restrictions on who can carry a gun and where.

The Democrat is also trying to exploit divides on how government should fight crime, arguing Kemp and Republicans have reverted to a failed lock-'em-up approach, abandoning a previous bipartisan push to focus on less punitive approaches.

Republican Attorney General Chris Carr, one of Kemp's closest allies, said it is "absolutely false" that Republicans have abandoned reform efforts, saying the GOP pushed through a mental health bill this year, supports diverting nonviolent offenders and wants to do more on drug addiction.

But he said Democrats are wrong to reject a Kemp strategy that has focused on cracking down on gangs, giving bonuses to police officers and creating a special state unit that focuses on crime and street racing in urban areas.

Carr said Democrats "fundamentally are more interested in protecting violent criminals than they are vulnerable communities."

Strengthening gun restrictions is an issue that resonates with Democratic voters and could sway suburban white women and other swing voters at a time when the country is still in shock from mass shootings at an upstate New York supermarket and Texas school. Those and other shootings have added fresh urgency to a seemingly stalemated national debate over guns, with some congressional Republicans signaling a willingness for at least small compromises.

Democrats are betting that voters are "at a breaking point," as Georgia Democratic state Rep. Shea Roberts puts it, over Republicans' decisions to expand access to guns.

In 2014, Georgia lawmakers decreed people could carry guns into additional places, including bars, churches and even up to the security checkpoint at the airport. In 2017, they added college campuses to the list. And Kemp this year pushed through a law that abolished the requirement for people to have permits to carry concealed weapons in public. That fulfilled a pledge Kemp had made when he ran for governor in 2018 with provocative ads, including one where he pointed a gun at an actor playing a suitor to one of Kemp's daughters.

Roberts unseated a Republican lawmaker in an affluent Atlanta district in 2020, saying she was motivated to run after her daughter described an active shooter drill at school two weeks before the 2018 school massacre in Parkland, Florida.

"Things have only gotten worse since then," Roberts said.

Abrams wants universal background checks for private gun sales, red flag legislation to let guns be taken away from those who pose a danger to themselves and others, and to block someone who has had a gun removed under a protective order from buying another one.

Polling showed even many Republican-leaning voters felt Kemp and GOP state lawmakers went too far in making it legal to carry concealed guns without a permit, said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock.

"It was not a tremendously popular idea even among Republican voters," Bullock said. "Arguably the legislature was listening only to the hardest of hardcore Republicans, and not where the average Republicans were on some of those issues."

But even if Abrams wins, she's likely to face Republican majorities resistant to her proposals in Georgia's legislature. Those majorities are backed by vocal groups opposed to any compromise.

Abrams wants to reconstitute a criminal justice reform council that authored multiple reforms when Republican Nathan Deal was governor. Sara Totonchi, policy director for the Abrams campaign, said Abrams would direct the group to "take a hard look at violent crime, why it happens and what we can do to address it at the source."

Abrams proposes intervening in schools and with families to prevent violence and expanding job training and opportunities. She wants to convert some low-level traffic and drug crimes into civil offenses. And she wants a "clean slate" law that would automatically clear criminal records if someone doesn't reoffend in a set period of time.

Republican National Committee spokesperson Garrison Douglas derided the clean slate proposal as "felony-b-gone," saying it was further proof that Abrams is soft on crime. Republicans have already been attacking Abrams for being a board member of the Seattle-based Marguerite Casey Foundation, saying the group is in favor of defunding or abolishing the police.

Print Headline: Abrams tries to flip script on guns and crime in Georgia

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