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Society

Spa Killings Prompt New Proposals from Georgia Democrats

ATLANTA — Democratic lawmakers in Georgia have introduced a slate of legislation in response to the recent shootings at massage businesses in metro Atlanta that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent — though it's unlikely the bills will see movement anytime soon. 

The proposals would require a five-day waiting period for gun purchases, establish a statewide translation system for 911 calls and create enhanced training for law enforcement emphasizing outreach in other languages. Democrats say they're responding to news reports that suggest people who couldn't speak fluent English had trouble communicating with responding officers, as well as reports that the suspect bought a gun the morning of the shootings.

The bills have little chance of passing this year because they're too late for procedural deadlines and only days remain in a legislative session set to end March 31. Also, any proposals that limit gun sales are likely to face staunch opposition in the Republican-controlled legislature.

"We're definitely looking more toward next session, just because of the way that the process is," said Democratic state Rep. Marvin Lim, who is among the Asian American lawmakers sponsoring the bills. "But that's not the point. We needed to act now and send a message" to the grieving communities, as well as to start a conversation with law enforcement agencies about accessibility, he said.

"The three bills aim to respond to various failures in the system," Lim said. 

Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, is accused of killing eight people at three separate Atlanta-area massage businesses. Another person was shot but survived.

Democratic Rep. Sam Park is the primary House sponsor for the proposal to institute a five-day waiting period for gun purchases.

"Myself, along with my colleagues, view this as a common-sense measure to reduce gun violence, based on impulsiveness, based on rage," Park said. "I think we're just astounded that this guy, the shooter, was able to obtain a gun and then kill eight people within a matter of hours."

Park acknowledged that the bill was unlikely to pass in Georgia, where Republicans control the General Assembly and the governorship. But he said that gun control will "without a doubt" be an issue in the 2022 statewide election, when all those offices will be on the ballot.

"It's important to demonstrate to the community that we're fighting for them, that we're fighting to protect our community to ensure that these sorts of horrific incidents do not happen again," Park said.

Republican state Sen. Tyler Harper, who has sponsored legislation broadening gun rights in the past, says he opposes a five-day waiting period.

"I think it's just an unnecessary burden on law-abiding citizens being able to access and exercise their constitutional rights," Harper said.

Two other bills introduced by Democrats in the wake of the shootings aim to increase communication between minority communities and law enforcement. One proposal would direct the Georgia Emergency Communications Authority to implement a statewide translation system for 911 calls. The other would direct the group that administers law enforcement training in Georgia to offer community response and proactive outreach training in languages other than English.

Democratic Sen. Sheikh Rahman is a Bangladeshi immigrant who was the first person of Asian descent elected to the Georgia state Senate.

"I have people from more than 100 different countries, speaking 100 different languages. The reporting is a big issue in our community," said Rahman, whose first language is Bengali.

While leaders of 911 centers acknowledge translation is an issue, they say many 911 centers have already overcome it through the use of on-call translation services.

William Wright, the manager of Barrow County E-911, is the secretary of the Georgia Emergency Communications Authority, a state agency that works to improve emergency communications in Georgia. He said every emergency dispatch center is locally operated and can be different, but said the use of translation services is common statewide.

"There's a number the dispatcher can call and an interpreter will get on the line," Wright said.

He said that's a more practical alternative than trying to hire operators fluent in multiple languages. "Our area and our nation is so diverse now that that it's very difficult to staff a 911 center with someone who can speak every language," Wright said.

Rahman said he wanted "some basic training" for law enforcement officers, plus easy access to interpreters. He suggested officers could carry a quick reference card with some basic phrases in common foreign languages, "just to get the communication started."

"You don't have to be a language expert," Rahman said.

Park said the detention of Mario Gonzalez, the husband of shooting victim Delaina Ashley Yaun, is just one argument for why police need to be better at dealing with minorities. Gonzalez, who survived the rampage, has said police detained him in handcuffs for four hours after the attack.

The Georgia Public Safety Training Center, which trains many police officers statewide, didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The Democrats sponsoring the slate of legislation issued a joint statement Tuesday calling for action.

"We look to our history, and where this country has been, and we look forward to the change we need to see," the statement said.

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