Potential changes to the state’s gun laws have many wondering what would happen locally if the legislature votes to allow concealed weapons into more public places.
A number of gun-related proposals could be on the docket during this year’s legislative session, including an overhaul that would allow the estimated 300,000 Georgians with gun permits to carry their weapons into places like churches and college campuses.
Gun rights advocates are also trying to revive a proposal that would allow licensed gun owners to carry weapons in parts of Georgia’s airports and give them more leeway to have their weapons on Atlanta’s mass transit system.
They will face stiff opposition from those who argue that tinkering with gun laws could lead to more violence. Supporters will also have to fight for attention from legislative leaders who will likely focus on balancing the budget, promoting economic development and waging a war on traffic.
Still, gun rights advocates plan a spirited push to build on a 2008 measure that allowed those with permits to carry firearms in state parks, restaurants that serve alcohol and mass transit.
Judge Farmer of Gainesville gun vendor Shuler’s Great Outdoors expects any legislative action will be popular with his clientele.
“I’m sure my customers will be in favor of it,” Farmer said. “The way the times have gotten nowadays, you hear people having confrontations on public transportation like Marta and also with the cities having to cut back on the amount of police, people feel a little bit safer knowing they have a way to defend themselves.”
Critics, meanwhile, said they worry it could give rise to vigilante justice and jeopardize the public’s safety.
David McDonald, the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville, doesn’t like the idea of guns in churches.
“You’d like to think that church is one place you could go where you’re secure,” McDonald said. “After a while, everybody toting guns around will develop a ‘Wild West’ mentality.”
McDonald said he understands the importance of safety and the church has had conversations with law enforcement about church security.
“We would much prefer to handle that as a church than to have people take those matters into their own hands so they have to bring guns,” McDonald said.
Gainesville Police Chief Jane Nichols said her main concern with the proposed changes would be if concealed weapons are allowed into places where alcohol is served.
“You mix alcohol with firearms and bad things happen,” Nichols said. “There’s just that propensity for violence and when people are impaired, they make poor decisions. When the poor decision relates to a firearm, the consequences are catastrophic.”
Nichols said if legislators indeed decide to amend the state’s gun laws, it would not change too much for Gainesville Police.
“We’d certainly have to be on heightened alert, you have to assume — as we do now — that almost everyone we come in contact with is armed,” Nichols said. “Legislation only dictates the actions of law abiding citizens. Bad guys who have guns probably aren’t allowed to have them under any circumstances anyway.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report