The last day of the General Assembly’s 40-day session is often a flurry of activity as legislators rush to finalize new laws for the state. It can be chaotic, especially for the more controversial measures where passage may come down to a single vote.
There is one bill that had nearly unanimous support — the repeal of the state’s citizen’s arrest law. The bill passed the Senate on Monday by a 52-1 vote and cleared the House unanimously Wednesday. It is now off to the governor’s desk, where we expect it to be signed into law in due time. Gov. Brian Kemp has been an open supporter of the repeal effort.
The issue came to light after the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery in the Satilla Shores neighborhood in February 2020. The citizen’s arrest law was the reason Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill gave for not arresting those involved in Arbery’s shooting.
After Barnhill recused himself, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation eventually took over the case and arrested Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan for felony murder and other offenses. The justice system will decide the fate of the three men charged in Arbery’s death.
The citizen’s arrest law has been on the books for more than a century. It is a Civil War-era relic that has long outlived its usefulness — if it ever had one to start. With hindsight, it is easy to see how the law could have been used for nefarious means since its inception.
It is definitely not needed in our modern age. No matter how much our society romanticizes the idea of vigilante justice, such matters are best left to be handled by trained professionals. Our tax dollars pay to train and equip police departments and other law enforcement agencies to handle such issues. If an arrest needs to be made, leave it to those who know what they are doing.
The repeal doesn’t in any way affect the right of people to defend themselves from harm. It has no bearing on the state’s current self-defense or stand-your-ground laws. Businesses will still be able to detain shoplifters as long as the offenders are turned over to police “within a reasonable amount of time.”
The bill is also an example of the results that can be achieved when Republicans and Democrats work together instead of against each other. State Reps. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, and Carl Gilliard, D-Garden City, should be commended for teaming up to find a solution to this issue. Hopefully their colleagues will follow their example going forward.