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Law enforcement, advocates offer insight on self-defense rules
More people buying concealable weapons
A variety of pepper sprays are on display Tuesday at the Georgia Gun Store in Gainesville. The store’s employees have noticed a number of fathers purchasing the spray for their college-aged children. - photo by Erin O. Smith

In recent years, the trend in gun sales for self-defense has been smaller firearms for carrying, Georgia Gun Store owner Mike Weeks said.

“As we have more and more shooting events, people are more concerned about their safety,” he said.

Handguns of the 9mm caliber have been popular, Weeks said, as current events “have people concerned that they’re going to be at the grocery store or they’re going to be at the movie theater and someone’s going to start shooting.”

Though not every case can be clear-cut, Northeastern Judicial Circuit Public Defender Brad Morris said the general standard for using deadly force is the “reasonable fear of imminent bodily injury or death.”

But in the heat of a moment, some subjective influences can make the case “foggier,” he said.

“If they have a gun and you see the gun, that’s more obvious,” Morris said. “If you know they have a reputation for being a killer or harmful person, that becomes a jury argument. The DA’s office might not buy it, but the jury might buy it.”

In two weeks, Geoffrey Mack, 65, of Buford, will likely face trial for charges of shooting his wife’s alleged stalker, Cornelio Lazarescue. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

In August, Superior Court Judge Bonnie Oliver denied Mack’s motion for immunity claiming self-defense. He is accused of shooting Lazarescue in the leg and jaw after the man allegedly followed Cheryl Mack back to her residence.

Georgia is one of several states that has a stand-your-ground law, which says that there is no duty to retreat when using force in defense of self, others and one’s property.

“A person who uses threats or force ... relating to the use of force in defense of self or others ...  relating to the use of force in defense of a habitation, or ... relating to the use of force in defense of property other than a habitation, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and use force as provided in said Code sections, including deadly force,” the law states.

Assistant public defender Matt Leipold said one misconception surrounding self-defense law is that a person can’t claim self-defense if they are the initial aggressor.

A lower legal standard exists when protecting your home, Morris said.

“Your home is thought to be your castle, so somebody comes over there and starts to break in, then it’s much more positively viewed as far as deadly force in that scenario,” he said.

If a case goes to trial, the defendant and counsel need to provide evidence of self-defense for the judge to charge the jury on self-defense, Leipold said.

“Once you have that, the burden is on the state to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

When making the sales, Weeks said he will recommend buyers to attend the firearm safety events that are hosted regularly by Gainesville Police and the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.

“I usually recommend customers start there if they are beginners and are new to it,” Weeks said, particularly because of the low student-teacher ratio.

Beginning on July 1, House Bill 792 allowed students on public college campuses to carry electroshock weapons for self-defense, allowing for “any person who is 18 years of age or older or currently enrolled in classes on the campus in question and carrying, possessing, or having under such person’s control an electroshock weapon while in or on any building or real property owned by or leased to such public technical school, vocational school, college or university or other public institution of postsecondary education ...” the law reads.

University of North Georgia spokeswoman Sylvia Carson said the school’s public safety department would investigate any incidents involving electroshock weapons.

Jon Lipscomb, owner of Foxhole Guns and Archery, previously told The Times that he saw an uptick around the time of the law change.

“We probably sell more pepper spray than we do stun guns,” Weeks said.