ATLANTA - Schools in Georgia could allow teachers to carry firearms while others with licenses could take their guns into houses of worship, more bars and government offices under a plan adopted Tuesday by House lawmakers.
The measure, passed by a vote of 119-56, comes during an election year as GOP leaders are seeking to expand the places where people with state-issued licenses may take their weapons. GOP lawmakers are facing pressure from vocal gun rights groups after a similar effort failed last year.
The bill would reduce the penalties for carrying guns on college campuses and in airport security checkpoints. It will next be considered by Georgia's state senators, who have proven more reluctant to expand where people can legally take firearms.
"Gun-free zones that are created by well-meaning laws are gun-free to the good guys only. The bad part of our society does not care," said state Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, the bill's sponsor. "This should not prevent law-abiding Georgians from defending themselves."
State Rep. Al Williams, a Democrat, criticized the bill as a Republican attempt to excite the party's voting base ahead of this year's elections. He said the state government should pay for more police officers if it seeks to better secure schools.
"Call this bill what it is: This is a voter mobilization bill. It ain't got nothing to do with gun control," Williams said. "Y'all, you're going to raise more money than we're gonna raise anyhow. Why do you want to pile on? C'mon."
The legislation would overturn a blanket ban on carrying guns in houses of worship and make it easier to carry in bars. It is currently illegal to carry a gun in a bar unless the owner decides otherwise. If passed, the leaders of religious congregations and private business owners would have to decide whether they want to prohibit firearms.
Republican state Rep. Chuck Sims broke ranks with many of his GOP colleagues over the bar and church provisions.
"A gun doesn't belong in a church," he said. "And a gun doesn't belong in a bar."
Under the plan, school administrators in Georgia could allow their teachers or other employees to carry guns on the job. Supporters of the plan have said arming school officials would deter attacks on schools, though opponents have said putting more guns in schools increases the danger to everyone.
People with a permit to carry a weapon would face fewer penalties for breaking existing laws. For example, people licensed to carry weapons could no longer be arrested for taking them on college campuses and would instead face a maximum fine of $100. Those with a license would no longer face arrest for bringing a firearm into an airport security checkpoint so long as the person with the gun immediately followed instructions to leave.