Bill expanding gun rights gets legislative OK

by Sarah Fay Campbell


Under HB 60, if churches want to allow guns, they can. Churches that don’t want to allow guns can still forbid them.

A bill that received final passage in the Georgia legislature Thursday will expand the places where weapons can be carried by those who have a Georgia Weapons Carry License.

House Bill 60 went through a number of changes during the session. It started off as a bill dealing with the carrying of guns by retired judges. It was later changed to include language from HB 875, another gun bill.

The version that passed didn’t contain any provisions related to the carrying of guns on college campuses, but it does make it possible for churches to allow guns in their buildings. It expands carry provisions in bars, allows the carry of weapons in many government buildings, and changes provisions related to guns in airports. It allows the use of “suppressors,” commonly thought of as silencers, in hunting. It even sets up regulations whereby local school systems can arm teachers and other school personnel.

The bill is now headed to Gov. Nathan Deal, who can either sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature. Unless it is vetoed, the bill will take effect on July 1.

Under current law, guns are forbidden in churches unless they are carried by police officers or others exempt from gun carry regulations.

Under HB 60, if churches want to allow guns, they can. Churches that don’t want to allow guns can still forbid them.

In fact, all property owners (except governmental entities) have and will continue to have the right to forbid guns on their properties.

However, under HB 60, someone who carries a gun into a church that doesn’t allow guns would only be subject to a $100 fine.

Under current law, there is a similar “opt-in” provision for bars. Guns can be carried in bars if the bar owner specifically allows them.

HB 60 does away with the opt-in requirement and allows carry in all bars, unless prohibited by the business owner.

Government buildings — other than courthouses — that do not have security posted will no longer be off limits to guns, under HB 60.

Carry is still prohibited in any building that contains a court house, even if the courtroom only occupies a small portion of the building. A local example is the 1904 Courthouse. Because it contains Probate Court, the entire building remains off limits to guns.

But gun carry will be allowed in many other government buildings. Government agencies can post security for specific occasions, such as a possibly contentious zoning meeting, and thereby forbid guns in the area of the building that is controlled by a security guard or officer.

Gun carry has been allowed in the non-secured areas of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for a few years, but that’s not because of a law that specifically allowed it. Instead, Atlanta’s legal department determined that the airport didn’t qualify as a “government building” and therefore wasn’t technically off limits, according to Jerry Henry, executive director of gun rights organization Georgia Carry.

Other airports in the state “did not necessarily have that same feeling,” said Henry. But under HB 60, the rule expands to all airports.

Those who accidentally — or forgetfully — go through airport security with a firearm will not be subject to arrest and gun confiscation, under HB 60.

If there is no criminal intent, the provision of HB 60 “keeps you from having to be arrested on the spot,” said Henry. Instead, you would be able to take the gun back to your car or otherwise keep it out of the secured areas.

Henry said he knew of one instance where a husband and wife weren’t getting along. The wife put a gun in her husband's briefcase before he went to the airport, with the intent of getting him in trouble. It worked.

Presently, when someone is arrested for taking a gun through security, they stay overnight at the Clayton County Jail, must post bail, are fined, and “you would probably lose your firearm,” Henry said.

The school provisions will allow local school systems “the option of determining whether they want to arm their teachers or their administrators,” Henry said.

The firearms must be carried concealed so that students won’t know the teacher or other school staff member is carrying a gun.

The gun would always have to be “kept on their person,” Henry said. School systems can determine what type of training personnel will need to carry guns, but “there are some minimal standards,” Henry said.

Under current law, guns can only be carried in schools by police officers or other exempt personnel such as judges or members of the military.

During the session, gun control advocates from Georgia and outside the state have lobbied against the proposed changes. The group of bills have been called the “Guns Everywhere” bill by opponents.

“This has been a very, very mean session from the antis,” Henry said. Henry said the opponents have told lies about what the bill would do and “we have taken them to task on some of their tweets.”

“One of their people made a statement … that this was the most extreme bill in the US,” Henry said. Politifact Georgia “which you know is not very conservative … rated that mostly false,” he said.

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