Firearms bill expands Georgia gun rights

Firearms bill expands Georgia gun rights

March 22nd, 2014 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

The Georgia State Capitol in downtown Atlanta.

The Georgia State Capitol in downtown Atlanta.

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

Coming soon to Georgia nightclubs, classrooms, courts and churches: Guns.

State lawmakers passed a sweeping firearms bill around 11:30 p.m. Thursday, a half-hour before this year's legislative session closed. The bill expands the places where gun owners can bring their weapons. It also makes other gun-related changes, such as letting residents hunt with silencers and protecting people who accidentally bring their weapons to airport security checkpoints.

The Safe Carry Protection Act passed the state Senate on Tuesday, 37-18, and the House on Thursday, 112-58, and now awaits Gov. Nathan Deal's signature or veto. Deal is a gun advocate who received an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association.

The NRA called Georgia's bill "the most comprehensive pro-gun reform legislation in recent state history." Among other changes, the new law will let church leaders decide whether they want people to bring guns into their buildings. Right now, carrying guns into a house of worship is illegal.

Also, the bill allows bar owners to decide whether they want people to bring weapons into their establishments.

"It's none of our business," said Rep. Rick Jasperse, the bill's sponsor. "The bar owner will decide because it's on private property."

And, if gun owners accidentally bring their weapons to an airport's Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, they will be allowed to retreat and drop their guns off somewhere before flying. Currently, carrying those guns to a checkpoint is illegal.

Also, the bill states that the governor of Georgia can no longer take people's guns during a state of emergency.

"With the current federal administration and their anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment stance," Jasperse said, "we want to protect Georgians."

The action in Georgia reflects trends in many conservative states across the country.

In 2013, when lawmakers gathered in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, 29 states passed a total of 75 laws making it easier to own and carry guns in public and harder for the government to track those guns, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

By comparison, 21 states and the District of Columbia passed 41 new laws making it harder to get or carry guns and easier for the government to track those guns.

Though no comprehensive list exists yet, some states have made headlines this year for passing more pro-gun laws.

In Arizona, lawmakers approved a proposal to let gun owners ignore "no weapons" signs on public buildings if those buildings don't provide lockers to store the guns. In Indiana, legislators approved a proposal to let owners keep guns in their cars on school property.

And in Idaho, the governor signed a bill letting gun owners bring their weapons onto college campuses.

Still, those actions were small compared to Georgia's sweeping bill.

"It's dangerous because it allows guns into more public places," Laura Cutilletta, an attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said of the bill.

"Bringing guns into public places outside of the home, there is no evidence at all to support that it actually makes people safer," Cutilletta said. "... In fact, there is some evidence to show the opposite, that it actually makes the situation more dangerous."

For years, gun control advocates have said Georgia's gun laws are too loose. In 2013, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave Georgia a failing grade, though the group failed most states. Georgia ranked 28th out of 50.

The group criticized Georgia for, among other things, letting residents with violent and firearms-related misdemeanors own guns. The state also was critiqued for not forcing gun owners to report stolen or lost firearms to the police.

But supporters say the massive overhaul of the state's gun laws is necessary.

"For years, the Second Amendment has eroded," said state Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell. "We understand, bad people shouldn't have a weapon. That's what a lot of laws have come to. But that has hurt law-abiding citizens."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at