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DeKalb ordinance would mandate safe storage of guns

By Tyler Estep, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A DeKalb County commissioner has introduced a local ordinance that would mandate the safe and secure storage of firearms, a measure he said would help address preventable gun deaths and stem the tide of violent crime.

Commissioner Ted Terry said he’s been working on the legislation for quite a while. But Tuesday morning’s public reveal came just a week after a Michigan teen allegedly used a gun purchased by his father to kill four classmates and wound several others at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit.

“This is a policy that works,” Terry said. “We have to do it across the country, but we’re not waiting. We’re taking action now.”

Terry’s commission district covers the western half of DeKalb, including parts of the city of Atlanta. Several other local officials — including state Sen. Elena Parent, Atlanta school board chairman Jason Esteves and incoming Atlanta City Council president Doug Shipman — joined him at the press conference announcing his proposal.

So did representatives from Moms Demand Action, a national advocacy group that pushes for stronger gun laws.

As written, the DeKalb ordinance would make it unlawful to store firearms where “a minor, at-risk person or prohibited person” could easily gain access. It would require that guns either be stored in a locked container or “secured by a device or mechanism, other than the firearm safety, designed to render a firearm temporarily inoperable.”

Terry said that, in the absence of state or federal action, putting such an ordinance in place on the local level would play a part in addressing “the millions of children who are at risk from accessing unsecured firearms, or the hundreds of thousands of guns that are stolen out of vehicles that are funneled into the black market and used in violent crimes.”

The draft ordinance currently calls for a $500 fine for first-time violators. Options on the local level are limited and Terry said that, as much as anything, it’s about providing a basis for educating gun owners about the potential ramifications if they don’t properly secure their firearms.

“These are not radical acts,” said Liliana Bakthiari, who was recently elected to represent Atlanta City Council District 5. “This is common sense gun legislation.”

Parent — a Democrat whose state Senate district includes parts of the Avondale Estates, Brookhaven and Decatur — decried the fact that similar legislation she’s introduced at the state level has gone nowhere.

But the idea may be gaining steam on the municipal level.

Bakthiari said she and future colleagues are interested in proposing similar legislation in Atlanta. Esteves, the Atlanta school board chair, said that body adopted a resolution Monday night committing themselves to increase efforts at educating local parents about safe firearm storage.

Khalid Kamau, the mayor-elect of the city of South Fulton, was also at Tuesday’s press conference and said he plans to introduce his own safe storage ordinance once he takes office.

Terry’s draft ordinance, meanwhile, was formally introduced at a DeKalb County commission meeting later Tuesday morning. It will go through the commission’s normal committee process and won’t be discussed in earnest until the new year.

“The Georgia legislature has pre-empted almost everything when it comes to gun control, but is silent on safe storage legislation,” Terry said. “We welcome a legal challenge because it’s important to have those debates. But in the meantime we’re going to move forward.”