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Some embrace new carry law while others maintain gun-free zones

POSTED: July 10, 2014 2:24 a.m.

Georgia’s new gun law, which expands the number of places where license holders can carry concealed weapons, has left local law enforcement, government officials, business owners and residents with more questions than answers.

“The new state gun law has presented some challenges with its interpretation ...” said Gainesville Police Chief Brian Kelly.

Before the new law was enacted, a presumption existed that most businesses, government buildings, churches and public meeting spaces were off-limits to guns.

But that belief has now been upended.

While churches were given an “opt-in” provision, meaning guns are prohibited in houses of worship unless otherwise stated, it seems residents of the Peach State can expect to see guns wherever else they go — libraries, parks, public transportation, the local watering hole, for example.

Kelly said the new law prompted training for his officers and staff.

“We are appropriately informed on its requirements and we will respond to calls for service surrounding the new statute as requested and enforce the statute as it requires,” he said.

But confusion about the new law remains.

For example, persons carrying guns cannot be “detained” by law enforcement and asked to verify they have a permit.

But does this also apply to business owners, particularly those who do not want guns in their establishments?

The Times has received several inquiries from permitted gun owners about where they can and cannot carry their concealed firearms. And a few answers have emerged.

Brenau Downtown Center

Schools across the state have made it clear they don’t want guns on their campuses.

But the Brenau Downtown Center, while operated by the university, is leased from the city of Gainesville.

And because guns are now allowed in some government buildings, it begs the question whether permit holders can pack heat inside the event center.

But Brenau spokesman David Morrison wants to put this debate to rest.

“No, they can’t,” he said. “It is being operated as a private college campus just as other leased space around the state. We prohibit guns on campuses.”

Lake Lanier

Dahlonega resident Rich Krebs called The Times asking whether he could carry his loaded, holstered pistol with him on fishing trips to Lake Lanier.

According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, permitted gun owners can carry their weapon at state parks and historic sites, except where federal regulations supersede.

However, guns must be unloaded, cased and stored on Army Corps of Engineers property, such as Lake Lanier.

Government buildings

While the law is clear that guns cannot be carried into government buildings with security screenings, such as the local courthouse, prohibitions at other properties are not so clear.

For example, guns are ostensibly prohibited at Gainesville City Council meetings even though metal detectors and other security screenings are not in place.

“Our council meetings are held in municipal court and guns are not allowed in there,” City Manager Kip Padgett said.

Kelly said no changes are in store for how the police department patrols council meetings.

“We will continue to staff the council meetings with uniformed officers as appropriate, as we have been doing prior to the new state gun law becoming effective,” he added.

But the same is not true for county Board of Commissioners meetings.

Permit holders can bring their guns along, though it’s not desired.

“We plan to maintain our current protocol,” said County Administrator Randy Knighton. “Of course, security measures are always assessed and refined periodically.”

However, guns are not allowed at the county government center when an election is taking place, according to the Marshal’s Office.

Restaurants and bars

“Now, under the law, the presumption is that you can carry a weapon into a bar or a restaurant unless that facility has basically taken an affirmative step to ban weapons ...,” said Alisa Cleek, chairwoman of the restaurant advisory group for the Atlanta law firm Elarbee Thompson. “Now that burden is on them to make that decision.”

Mark Jordan, co-owner of Atlas Pizza in the downtown Gainesville square, said the restaurant is a family-friendly place and that he has no intention of checking permits or running out gun carriers.

But things will change when the restaurant moves to its new location on Bradford Street in four to five months.

Jordan said the dynamic of the restaurant will change when the move is made, including the addition of a sports bar and music stage. He said he’ll hire off-duty cops and bouncers to patrol patrons.

“No one will be allowed to carry guns inside,” he said.

Things aren’t as clear-cut at Mule Creek Tavern, however.

Owner Doug Singleton said while he is a gun collector and supporter of the Second Amendment, “There’s got to be some common sense involved.”

On the one hand, Singleton said, permitted gun owners could make things safer because they tend to be well-trained. There’s also a background check involved in getting the permit.

On the other hand, Singleton said he distinguishes between a pistol-toting patron and those who strap a semi-automatic rifle to their chest.

“It’s not a black-and-white issue,” he said.

Singleton added he will fall back on a tried-and-true restaurant rule: He reserves the right to refuse service to anyone.


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