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Deal signs bill allowing guns in more places

POSTED: April 23, 2014 1:08 p.m.

ELLIJAY — Georgia took a big step Wednesday toward expanding where licensed gun carriers can take their weapons, as the governor signed a bill allowing them in bars without restriction and in some churches, schools and government buildings under certain circumstances.

Following mass shootings in recent years, some states have pursued stronger limits on guns while others like Georgia have taken the opposite path, with advocates arguing that people should be allowed to carry weapons as an issue of public safety.

The bill makes several changes to state law. Guns could be brought into some government buildings that don’t have certain security measures, such as a metal detector or security guards screening visitors. It allows religious leaders to make the decision whether a person with a permit can bring a gun into their place of worship.

That means licensed permit holders can pack heat at city council and county board of commissioners meetings.

But this isn’t much of a change, according to Hall County officials.

Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton said individuals legally authorized to carry guns were never prevented from doing so at a county commission meeting.

Guns, however, were prohibited at Gainesville City Council meetings, according to City Manager Kip Padgett.

But even with the change, Padgett said he doesn’t expect any additional security measures to be taken. Police officers have long been present at council meetings.

“For right now, it’s going to be business as usual,” Padgett added.

Hall County also has law enforcement officials attend public government meetings.

“We will continue to have security measures in place,” Knighton said.

Whether the new law poses a threat to security and safety at government meetings is something officials said they would address in the weeks ahead.

Spokesman John Marshall said the Hall County Sheriff’s Office would review the details of the new law to see if any additional law enforcement training is needed.

But prior to the new gun bill becoming law, Hall County officials began working with law enforcement to educate and train employees about “active-shooter” situations.

Active-shooter situations are often associated with schools.

School districts would now be able, if they want, to allow some employees to carry a firearm on school grounds under certain conditions.

“Our board of education is not contemplating any additional action beyond the school resource officers,” Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

The Gainesville school board approved middle and high school resource officers to have access to rifles at a December meeting. Those rifles are kept inside a safe, accessible only to the school resource officer.

There are guidelines schools would have to follow. For example, designated employees would have to undergo a mental health evaluation, as well as take part in training.

“It’ll be interesting to see if anyone does anything,” Dyer said, adding she would think insurance rates would go up.

The Hall County School District isn’t expected to change its policy, either.

“I don’t expect the new legislation to have any immediate effect on our procedures,” Superintendent Will Schofield said, adding he has a great amount of respect for the Second Amendment.

“I would envision thorough study, debate and discussion,” he said about any potential changes to the district’s safety procedures.

Republicans control large majorities in the Georgia General Assembly, and the bill passed overwhelmingly despite objections from some religious leaders and local government officials. One group outside Georgia criticized it as the “guns everywhere” bill.

For the signing by Gov. Nathan Deal and barbecue, a few hundred gun rights supporters gathered at an outdoor pavilion along a river in North Georgia in the town of Ellijay. Many in the audience sported “Stop Gun Control” buttons, and several had weapons holstered at their side.

House Speaker David Ralston responded to those who might oppose the bill while describing the people of his district.

“This is the apple capital of Georgia. And, yes, it’s a community where we cling to our religion and our guns,” Ralston said, drawing big applause in referencing a past comment made by President Barack Obama.

The Georgia Municipal Association was among those raising concerns, sending a letter to Deal arguing local governments couldn’t afford to increase security. Deal, in his remarks, argued the bill empowers local decisions

“House Bill 60 will protect law-abiding citizens by expanding the number of places that they can carry their guns without penalty, while at the same time this bill respects the rights of private property owners who still set the rules for their land and their buildings,” Deal said.

Staff writers Carly Sharec and Joshua Silavent contributed to this report.


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