Georgia gun legislation
* HB 55: Would allow licensed owners with permits to carry a gun on college campuses.
* HB 54: Would allow licensed owners with permits to carry a gun in any place of worship.
* HB58: Would allow retired judges to carry guns.
* SR1: Would promote increased public awareness of the dangers of celebratory gunfire.
* SB26: Would prohibit any additional limitations on carrying a gun during states of emergency.
Gun owners would be allowed to carry their firearms in churches and in college classrooms under legislation that, if approved, would extend gun rights further in Georgia.
It remains to be seen whether House Bills 54 and 55 have a prayer of being heard this legislative session, but some North Georgia pastors said they wouldn't be opposed to church members with permits carrying guns into worship.
"The people with carry permits are usually law-abiding and extensively safe," said Travis Hutchinson, pastor of Highlands Presbyterian Church in LaFayette, Ga.
He said it seems unwise to keep churches as gun-free zones because members wouldn't be able to protect themselves in the event of foul play.
But other authorities argue that Georgia gun permit laws are lax and not just anyone with a permit should be allowed to bring a gun to church.
"I would be in favor of trained ... selected people allowed to carry a weapon," said Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson. "But 50 people with a gun strapped to their side in church isn't what we're looking for."
Legislation approved by the Georgia General Assembly last year clarified where it is legal for licensed gun owners to carry firearms. The law removed the prohibition on guns at public gatherings, but it stipulated that guns were banned in certain places including churches, schools and bars without the owner's permission.
Allowing guns in churches was taken out of the bill to ensure it passed, said Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette.
Several North Georgia lawmakers said they favor extending the carry rights approved last year.
"By taking the guns away from the ... law-abiding citizens, we're telling the criminals that we are disarming ourselves, and go ahead and take advantage of us," said Neal, a former pastor.
But advocacy groups that fight for stricter gun laws argue that just because a person has a permit to carry a concealed weapon doesn't make him or her a law-abiding citizen.
"This idea that folks with concealed weapons are less likely to respond emotionally ... is a misnomer," said Alice Johnson, director for Georgians for Gun Safety.
Even some of those who say they wouldn't object to guns in church have their limits.
"I wouldn't be opposed to any men in membership having guns," said Rick Spence, pastor of New Life Baptist Church in Dalton. "[But] I would be wary if [just] anyone came in with a gun."
Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, who has also filed bills to prohibit mandatory vaccinations and to eliminate the state income tax, introduced House Bills 54 and 55 in late January. The bills were assigned to the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. Franklin didn't return calls seeking comment last week.
It's up to committee Chairman Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, to decide whether the bills should be heard this year.
"We passed significant gun legislation last year," Golick said. "It may be the fact that we may hold off addressing gun laws this session."
While gun rights also were extended on college campuses last year to allow permit holders to keep their weapons in their vehicles, this year's legislation would allow students and faculty to take their guns into classrooms and campus buildings.
State higher education officials have opposed bills to loosen gun laws on campuses, arguing that guns and college students are a risky mix.
Dalton State College President John Schwenn said he doesn't comment on pending legislation, but that the university's position of not allowing guns on campus remains.
John Monroe, an attorney with GeorgiaCarry.org, a gun-rights advocacy group, said students should be allowed to defend themselves because more and more violent incidents are occurring on college campuses across the country.
But Ricky Green, a Dalton State College senior, said he would be afraid of a student having a gun in class.
"I would feel much more comfortable with security personnel rather then somebody getting their shotgun out of the truck and pumping lead around," Green said.
While Golick hasn't decided whether the gun legislation will be heard this year, he said one thing is for sure: "These are issues that will come up again."
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...