It’s been dubbed the “guns everywhere” bill, and once it’s signed into law it will make Georgia the latest state to allow firearms to be carried in churches, bars, airports and classrooms.
The bill, passed with bipartisan support in the legislature, is jam-packed with changes to the state’s gun laws, a sweeping and comprehensive piece of legislation that loosens gun control rather than tightens it. The pending law is awaiting Gov. Nathan Deal's expected signature.
Here are some of the key changes in the omnibus bill:
- It will no longer be illegal to bring a firearm to a place of worship, as long as the congregation says it’s allowed. If someone is caught with a firearm in a church that bans guns there will be a $100 fine.
- School districts will be allowed to decide if staff can carry firearms in elementary and high schools. Firearms still won’t be legal on college campuses but the penalty for licence holders is dropped to $100.
- Licensed carriers will be able to bring firearms into bars unless the owner disallows it. Someone who doesn’t co-operate with a no-gun rule could be charged with trespassing on private property.
- No more bans on firearms in public housing.
- Firearms can be carried in non-secure areas of airports. A person with a gun caught in a secure area will simply be asked to leave, without risk of arrest, jail or a fine.
- Police won't be able to stop people to ask to see a carry permit.
- No database allowed of concealed carry permit holders.
The National Rifle Association, which lobbied hard for Georgia legislators to pass the measures, called the successful vote “a historic day” for gun owners. “Your gun rights were not only preserved this year, but were restored and advanced further than they ever have in the history of the Peach State,” it told NRA members on its website.
A local group called GeorgiaCarry.org worked closely with the NRA on the bill and is also celebrating. “It wasn’t everything we were asking for, it was pretty close to it, though,” said executive director Jerry Henry in an interview. The group had wanted guns allowed on college campuses too.
'Most extreme gun bill' in U.S.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were shot in December 2012, some surprise and concern are being expressed in the U.S. that this kind of law could be passed.
That shocking rampage prompted a wave of promises to do more to prevent gun violence, and while little was done at the federal level, some individual states did take action in 2013. Many of the reforms related to background checks for purchasing firearms and to magazine capacities.
But for every bill that proposes advancing gun control there appears to be one that tries to scale it back. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence says it is tracking 1,300 bills in state legislatures across the country and about half of them aim to strengthen gun laws while the other half aim to weaken them.
The group calls the Georgia bill “outrageous” and “irresponsible,” while Americans for Responsible Solutions, founded by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords who survived a shooting, called it “the most extreme gun bill in America.”
The characterizations were rejected by Henry, who said the measures in the bill exist in other states and there’s nothing unique about them. What’s different is that so many changes are being made at the same time — changes that are long overdue in his opinion.
“They’re needed because our rights have been stripped away from us for years,” he said. “The Second Amendment says the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. And it has been infringed.… We’re basically just restoring our rights, we’re not getting any new rights.”
Governor still has to sign bill
Police chiefs, bar owners, churches and many advocacy groups voiced opposition to the bill, and they did get some amendments, but couldn’t stop it from passing. Now school boards and congregations are expected to enter into heated and divisive debates about how to handle the law’s provisions.
When asked why a teacher would want a gun in the classroom, Henry responded, “Why would anybody want to have a gun anywhere? For protection. If somebody had had a gun at Sandy Hook there probably wouldn’t have been 26 people killed up there.”
More than a dozen other states are considering new laws about guns in schools or on school property according to the Law Center. Some states are also considering a ban on doctors talking to patients about the presence of guns in their homes. “Docs vs. Glocks” laws, as they are known, already exist in other states such as Florida, where it has been the subject of a legal battle.
Those who oppose the Georgia bill can still cling to the hope that the governor won’t sign it — but that would be a faint hope. The NRA has in the past given Nathan Deal an “A” rating for his support of the Second Amendment.