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'The way our laws are written': Bibb probate judge details state gun laws and mental health

An hours-long standoff in north Macon last week ended with everyone safe, but it left some with questions about gun licenses and mental health.

MACON, Ga. — An hours-long standoff in north Macon last week ended with everyone safe, but it left some people with questions about gun licenses and mental health.

Bibb County Probate Judge Sarah Harris says part of her job is deciding who gets approved and denied for gun licenses.

She says it can be difficult, but the law is the law.

"You have an active felony warrant or you're under indictment for a felony you can be denied for that," says Judge Harris.

Judge Harris says federally, a person is automatically prohibited from getting a firearm if that person has a felony, active warrant, or a judge rules they need extensive mental health treatment.

"You have to understand that the laws relating to the issuance of a license for weapons carry is very black-and-white, so we don't have a lot of discretion in that."

She says she makes her decisions on a case-by-case basis, but she must follow both federal and state laws.

She says Georgia's laws are the more lenient of the two.

"Until we fix the mental health system, it really doesn't matter about the rest of it because that's the part that's really broken," she says.

Harris says in the state of Georgia, if you pass the background check and mental health evaluation, you can get approved for a license.

But she says if you do fail and are ordered to mental treatment, it can drop off your background check within five years. Then, you can reapply.

"So you could still be sick, you could still have problems, and if you haven't been involuntarily committed, you may be able to still get a gun license because it doesn't show up on your background check."

She says there is a chance that someone can permanently get their gun privileges taken away, but that's only if a judge makes that decision, and there's a whole process to go along with it.

"What people misunderstand is the average person can't just walk into the court and say 'I want to commit someone because they're mentally ill.' There's a process you have to go through, and it's generated from a hospital," says Harris.

Harris says now, she and other state leaders are working with Governor Brian Kemp to change some of the laws surrounding mental health.

She says that's what needs to happen in order to support people who could be a risk in the future.

"Those that have been taking medication and then they start to come off their medication and their family notices it, there's not anything we can do for them until they fall apart. That's the way our laws are written," she says.

Harris adds that there are ways to petition to try to keep your gun license or to get it back if you've had it taken away.

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