Franklin Gun Shop provides firearms and hunting and fishing equipment to the Athens community. Founded in 1962, the shop is owned by Athens local Mark Franklin. (Photo/Shelby Israel)

What the Firearm Debate Means Ahead Of Midterms For Athens-Area Locals

In the state of Georgia, the number of weapons carry permits has increased each year from 2018-2020, and the statistics are similar in Barrow, Oconee, Clarke, Madison and Jackson counties.

 Why It’s Newsworthy: Proponents and opponents of firearms access in Athens are weighing the issue ahead of casting their ballots this November. 

According to the 2018-2020 probate court caseload reports compiled by the Office of Research and Data Analysis of the Judicial Council of Georgia, the totals in Barrow and Madison Counties have increased each year, while Jackson, Clarke and Oconee have fluctuated slightly since 2018.

 

Although statewide data is currently only available for the years 2018-2020, 2021 Clarke County data reflects an increase in permits as well, rising from 1,032 permits in 2020 to 1,684 in 2021.

In the state overall, the number of licenses issued increased by 18,808 from 2018 to 2019, marking an 11% growth. In 2020, the number increased again by 100,017, a roughly 53% increase from 2019.

With firearm access being a hotly partisan issue, voters who vote strictly by their party association may already have decided.

Voting At The Margin

“More and more we are seeing that people appear to identify with rhetorical label rather than particular policy positions,” University of Georgia political science lecturer Jeffrey Glas said. “Party rules the day when it comes to voting for these types of things, though. At least half are going to be voting on partisanship alone.”

Glas said because of this issue of partisan identification, voters disagreeing with their party’s belief on a certain issue is not enough to sway them from voting for their identified party. 

“I think that the term ‘gun control’ has been defined in a very particular way as, ‘Ban all firearms, period,’” Glas said, “but that’s just not the case.” 

Glas said a majority of Americans support some gun control, a number which could not be achieved without conservatives, despite being associated with a staunch advocacy of gun rights.

In an April 2021 Pew Research Center study, 53% of Americans surveyed said they believed gun laws should be stricter. 

According to a summer 2022 survey by the Pew Research Center, 32% of respondents who identify as Republican or leaning Republican support additional legislation addressing gun violence after the passing of the Safer Communities Act

According to Glas, the proximity of a large-scale event to an election can influence voters. If a major school shooting were to occur two weeks before an election, Glas said that may sway voters.

“At the end of the day, the party’s a full package. It’s not just one policy area, you know,” Glas said. “It’s an identity, so …

it ends up being very important to people in the way that religious identification ends up being important to people. Partisanship is really no different. It’s a social identity.”

While assistant political science professor David Cottrell agreed with Glas that one’s party affiliation may supersede their decision to vote on any one issue such as firearms, Cottrell said it is hard to say exactly to what extent a voter may be swayed.

“Issue politics might affect voting at the margin, and that’s a big concern in states where you have marginal victories,” Cottrell said. “And so states that are swing states or states that we expect to have close elections, that’s when you start to think about how issues might play a role.”

Cottrell said although the subset of the population voting at the margin is small, that small percentage can be substantial in the likelihood of a victory.

‘A Convenient Scapegoat’: The Misrepresentation Of Firearms

Mark Franklin, owner and chief operating officer of Franklin Gun Shop, is a long-time Athens resident and UGA alumnus. Franklin’s parents, who founded the gun shop in 1962, were also locals.

According to Franklin, his clientele are diverse and represent the larger scope of Athens residents, with people of color and women representing the largest growing number of the shop’s sales in the last 10 years. 

According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 44.8% of firearm retailers reported an increase in sales to Black customers in 2021 compared to 2020. Retailers surveyed also reported a 36.9% increase in Latino customers, 27.1% in Asian American customers, 18.4% among Native Americans and 13.5% among Pacific Islanders. 

According to the same survey, 22.2% of the 2021 total reported sales were female customers.

Franklin said a common misconception about firearms is misunderstanding the scope of details.

“They talk about on the news, you know, he had five firearms in his car, he had 1,000 rounds of ammo, like it’s some big deal. It’s not a big deal,” Franklin said. “I can put a 1,000 rounds of ammo in a box the size of a shoebox and set it on my desk. That’s 1,000 rounds of ammo. It doesn’t take up that much space.”

With the AR-15 platform firearms available to the public for 60 years, Franklin said the presence of firearms in the United States is nothing new. 

“Society’s got problems. We have problems getting along. We have problems respecting our fellow man. We have problems taking care of the mentally indigent, the homeless,” Franklin said. “Firearms are just a convenient scapegoat for politicians not wanting to deal with the problems that plague modern society.”

‘Not a Dichotomy’: Seeking Reduction In Athens Gun Violence

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America Volunteer Leader Emma Jones said she began her work with the local Athens group because she is a mother.

“As I’m sure every parent everywhere will tell you, the worst thing you can possibly imagine is somehow losing your child,” Jones said, “and you know, the specter of them going to school and not coming home, or committing gun suicide, which is a real risk in some communities, really spoke to me.” 

Jones said she has lived in Athens for over 20 years. In her local work with Moms Demand Action, Jones said the group has a great working relationship with the Athens Mayor and Commission, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department and Clarke County School District to help decrease community gun violence.

Jones said many Athenians would not view the city as having a high rate of gun violence. There are areas, however, in which Jones said the likelihood of gunfire is a real threat. 

“It’s not a dichotomy. You can choose to own a firearm, and you can also be a part of gun violence prevention,” Jones said. “You can understand that these two things are not mutually exclusive.”

Jones said she believes the issue of gun violence prevention will have a positive impact on voters’ decisions.

Shelby Israel is a fifth-year majoring in journalism and minoring in English and Korean. 

 

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  • Show Comments (1)

  • Greg Dodd

    Good article.
    I think firearms, gun rights, and gun control are hot button issues and I appreciate the perspectives of the two poly-sci experts along with Franklin and Jones. The statistics on concealed carry permits and the large jump in Clarke county from 2020 to 2021 is interesting and might tell us something interesting about ourselves.

    I think that Governor Kemp was able to capitalize on the passage of the bill that allowed concealed without a permit to help defeat his primary challenger, Perdue. I’ve seen a few adds from Abrams targeting Kemp for passage of the bill but I’m not sure that will make as much difference as it did in the primary.

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