published Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Greater Chattanooga area legislators back gun law changes

Georgia state Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, plans to preach Sunday at his church in Ringgold, Ga., which is something he does about half a dozen times each year.

In the not-too-distant future, Neal hopes Georgia churchgoers with concealed weapons permits will be able to bring their guns to a Sunday service -- something state law now forbids.

That would make congregations less vulnerable to attack by someone intent on stealing the offering or taking revenge on an estranged family member, he said.

"I think it's important for a church to be able to have that opportunity ... to say 'we want to have some defense here,'" Neal said.

Neal wrote legislation to allow guns in Georgia churches that was added to a bill that passed the house Thursday in a 117-56 vote. House Bill 512, the Safe Carry Protection Act, would allow Georgians to carry guns in more places, including churches, bars, government buildings and parts of public college campuses.

Other area representatives who supported it were John Deffenbaugh, R-Lookout Mountain, and Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold.

Deffenbaugh, a freshman lawmaker who represents Dade County and part of Walker County, said he's gotten more requests from constituents to support this bill than any other legislation.

"By far," he said. "I've probably got in the hundreds, as far as emails.

"I think it improved the carry-ability of a lot of people that are good citizens that have the carry permit," Deffenbaugh said. "It just opened up some areas. If a church doesn't object, then you could carry it in church."

The bill would allow gun owners to carry their firearms on most areas of public college campuses, but not in residence halls or at competitive sporting events.

Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, says allowing young adults to carry handguns on campuses could lead to more violence, according to The Associated Press.

Under the legislation, those with concealed-carry permits could take firearms inside government buildings -- but only if those buildings lack security checkpoints at the entrances and exits.

The bill also would allow people who have received inpatient care at mental hospitals or drug treatment centers within the last five years to get licenses to carry weapons. Now, judges have discretion over whether to issue licenses to those applicants.

Neal predicted the state Senate would pass the bill.

"I feel pretty confident about it," Neal said. Though he added, "You never know. You just never know with the legislative process."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township┬╣s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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