ATLANTA - Just ahead of a crucial legislative deadline, Republican lawmakers are moving to loosen restrictions on where Georgians can carry or keep firearms.
The multiple proposals being consolidated into larger bills would allow the arming of school teachers, permit guns in bars and churches and prohibit the government from releasing information on the identity of people who have permits to carry a gun. The proposals stop short of more radical ideas that have been floated in an already gun-friendly state, such as allowing residents to carry concealed firearms without a license.
"We're looking out for the folks who follow the rules, those license holders who go through the trouble of being license holders," said Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, who sponsored the House proposal. "... They are going to know where they can carry, where they can't carry. They're going to be real specific about it."
His legislation must receive approval from at least one chamber by Thursday or it will fail.
The bill would allow education officials to permit people to carry firearms on school grounds or campuses. After a gunman in Connecticut killed 26 people in a shooting rampage at an elementary school, Republican lawmakers in Georgia and several other states proposed arming school employees in the hope it might deter other attacks.
Lawmakers expected an earlier plan setting minimum safety and training requirements for those carrying guns in schools would be incorporated into the bill during a committee hearing late Friday.
Under the House proposal, gun owners could also carry a concealed firearm anywhere in an airport that is outside security checkpoints.
Current law bans anyone from receiving a permit to carry a weapon if they have received in-patient care at a mental health or substance abuse treatment center within the past five years. The language of the latest House bill appears to apply that provision only to those who have been involuntarily hospitalized. However, Jasperse said that change was not intended and that the bill may be revised.
Those seeking a permit would have to give a probate court judge permission to request documentation on their treatment. Jasperse said his goal was to give judges more information before they issue a license.
"We're trying to make him look and find the things that can be found," he said.
Separately, Senate lawmakers voted 41-10 on Monday to approve legislation that would prevent public housing authorities from banning tenants from keeping guns on the property. Under the plan, Georgia would recognize firearms licenses issued by other states. It would also forbid government agencies from publicly releasing information on who has a license to carry a firearm.
"We all understand some of the tragedies that take place with gun violence, but also the protections protecting those who can lawfully carry a gun," said Sen. Frank Ginn, R-Danielsville.
Democratic lawmakers urged their colleagues to reject the bills, saying gun restrictions or bans tailored to public housing complexes had made them safer.
"You are aware that you are proposing expanding access to guns in a national climate that is deeply troubled by the rampages that are going on, the lives that have been lost," said Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta. "Is this really an appropriate time for the Georgia Legislature to be throwing the door open a little bit wider to the proliferation of guns?"