A group of Cowetans took the Coweta County Commissioners to task for the way a proclamation supporting the Second Amendment was handled at the Feb. 4 commission meeting.
The proclamation wasn’t on the agenda for the meeting until it was added – during the meeting – by Commissioner Bob Blackburn. But the proclamation was no surprise to the standing-room-only crowd at that meeting. There had even been a Facebook event created to get people to turn out.
Though the proclamation wasn’t on the agenda beforehand, Blackburn had contacted the NTH the Friday before about it, and a story ran in that Saturday’s paper about the issue coming before the commissioners.
“I understand there was no opposition” at the meeting itself, said Cindy Pursley. “One reason there was no opposition is that it was not on the agenda posted on the (county) website. But those who planned to pass this apparently knew all about it since it was standing-room-only.”
A Facebook invite is hardly official information, Pursley said. “Not everyone is glued to social media and those of us who want to stay informed do check the official websites for notification."
In the U.S. Constitution, the First Amendment precedes the Second. “I believe the founders believed the most important right we had was free speech,” Pursley said.
“To protect my First Amendment right to freedom of speech on this issue, I would like to revisit the need for this proclamation in a public forum at a future commission meeting,” Pursley said.
She said she’d like to learn more about the motivation behind the proclamation and why the commissioners felt it was necessary.
Elsa Carion also asked about the motivation.
“Why is this necessary?” she asked. Carion also mentioned some of the speakers at the Feb. 4 commission meeting, including a reference to Mao Zedong and his saying that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."
Mao was one of the worst mass murderers in history, Carion said.
“If we are a democracy, the power comes from the citizens, not from the guns,” she said.
Carion said she is a moderate and supports the Second Amendment, though “I think it could use a little tinkering to protect our school kids.”
She added that she hopes that the proclamation doesn’t become a “black mark” on Coweta County.
Matt Thompson said he watched the video of the meeting and wants to know what will happen with the proclamation. “Where is it going to go?” he asked. The proclamation itself gives one impression, but the comments made at the meeting have a different tone, he said.
Those commenting “were making it pretty obvious they want no changes to gun laws in the U.S.,” he said. But there are a lot of people in Coweta County who don’t agree with that.
Thompson said he got the impression that the speakers felt that any change to gun laws would be unconstitutional. “It sounded like you did agree with them,” he said to the commissioners.
Thomas Finnegan said he has been a military officer and had guns all his life. And there are “millions of Americans like me that are for reasonable gun laws,” he said. “The Second Amendment is not an unlimited right. I don’t have a right to a nuclear weapon. I don’t have a right to a fully-armed tank,” he said.
“I don’t want Coweta County to be known as the next location for a mass shooting by someone who should never have had a gun,” he said.
Finnegan pressed the commissioners on whether they would actually refuse to cooperate with a law duly passed by the Georgia General Assembly. He asked if a “red flag law” that allows guns to be temporarily taken from someone that a judge finds may be a threat is enacted, does the proclamation mean the commissioners wouldn’t obey that law?
Would the commissioners decide that someone’s right to have a gun "supersedes our right not to get killed by some deranged person who might be identified by such a law?"
The commissioners typically don’t directly respond to public comments and did not in this case.
After the meeting, Blackburn was asked about the timing of the proclamation and why it wasn’t simply put on an agenda like most proclamations.
“There wasn’t any sense of cloak and dagger. It was just the way it went down,” Blackburn said.
Under commission rules, agenda items for the regular agenda must be submitted the Wednesday before the Tuesday meeting, said County Administrator Michael Fouts. Items submitted between then and Monday at noon can go on the supplemental agenda.
Blackburn's proclamation wasn’t on the supplemental agenda, either. The version that was passed at the Tuesday meeting differed significantly from a draft version Blackburn had shared the Friday before.
Blackburn said the proclamation was inspired by both the debate over gun laws taking place in Virginia, where severe gun restrictions were proposed, and by Georgia Senate Bill 281, which was pre-filed in the Georgia General Assembly in December and proposed significant gun law changes including requiring background checks at gun shows and outlawing magazines with a capacity of over 10 rounds.
There were also several other Georgia counties considering proclamations around the same time, Blackburn said.
“There was no intent whatsoever to do it clandestinely or snap it onto the board or anything. That’s just how it went down as we arranged the meeting,” Blackburn said.