0409GUNSAUDAlice Johnson, executive director of Georgians for Gun Safety, talks about her group’s opposition to House Bill 89, which would expand the areas where concealed weapons can be carried.
When Gainesville sporting goods store manager John Lipscomb wears his Glock 23 handgun legally concealed in the waistband of his pants, he has to leave it behind when he goes into a restaurant to eat. The same goes for riding on a bus or visiting a state park.
But if Gov. Sonny Perdue signs a bill that passed the state legislature last week, Lipscomb and thousands of other Georgians with concealed weapon permits will have less restrictions on where they can carry guns starting July 1.
"I think it’s a great thing for Georgia and Georgia residents," said Lipscomb, general manager of Shuler’s Great Outdoors.
Shuler said he was surprised House Bill 89 passed, given a trend toward more restrictions on gun owners.
"In the day and age we live in, we always expect gun rights to be tighter and tighter," he said.
The bill would allow for concealed weapons to be carried into restaurants that serve less than 50 percent alcohol, state parks and on public transportation. A ban on concealed weapons still would exist in other public gathering places, including sporting events, bars and churches.
House Bill 89 would also allow for gun owners to keep guns in their cars in their employers’ parking lots, provided the business owner gives permission.
Alice Johnson, executive director of Georgians for Gun Safety, called the bill "the deadliest piece of legislation" in her organization’s 15 years of lobbying the general assembly.
Johnson said the bill would authorize civilians to take the law into their own hands and rely on concealed guns when crimes are being committed and police aren’t around.
"Ultimately it has the goal of trying to make concealed weapons more pervasive in the community, and we think that’s very, very dangerous," Johnson said.
Lipscomb notes that people permitted to wear concealed weapons go through a rigorous background check, and they simply would be able to take them into a few new places. The guns wouldn’t frighten or offend the public because they’re concealed from view, he said.
"We’re not law enforcers; we’re protecting ourselves or protecting our families," Lipscomb said. "This is just allowing us to protect ourselves in places we haven’t been able to before."
In Hall County, about 1,100 concealed weapon permits are issued or renewed each year, according to officials in the Hall County Probate Court. More than 450 applications have been processed so far this year.
Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper said he’s glad the provisions of House Bill 89, particularly as they relate to guns in cars, were tied to concealed weapon permit holders as opposed to ordinary lawful gun owners.
"It doesn’t concern me as much for someone who has gone through that permitting process, where their background is checked pretty thoroughly," Hooper said.
Hooper said he had concerns over the so-called "parking lot law" as it was first proposed last year, when property owners would not be able to tell their employees whether they could keep a gun in their cars. Hooper said his concerns were for the property rights of business owners, as well as the potential for workplace violence.
The bill now gives property owners the last word on whether an employee can keep a gun in a workplace’s parking lot.
Hooper said while every citizen has certain powers afforded them under the law, "we don’t encourage any private citizen to take law enforcement action. If they witness a crime, we want them to be a good witness."
Ron Wolf, executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association, said his group, representing about 3,200 eateries in the state, was "fairly outspoken in opposition to the bill."
"We did not think there was any reason to have a bill that would allow concealed weapons in places that serve alcohol," Wolf said. "We just don’t think it’s a good formula."
Wolf said certain liability issues could fall on restaurant owners, and that the bill would place the burden on the owner to make sure someone with a concealed weapon is not drinking alcohol.
"How do you enforce that? We’re not going to frisk them for a gun," Wolf said. "You’re trusting the person carrying the gun to be honest."
Janice Crow, general manager of Hall Area Transit, which operates the Red Rabbit bus line, said the agency is aware of a possible change in the law that would allow concealed weapons on public buses.
"We are aware, and we will simply have to see how things work out," Crow said. "Our priority is to create a safe environment. What it takes to create a safe environment can be perceived differently."
For his part, Lipscomb said he believes giving concealed weapon permit holders more places where they can carry guns will make the state safer.
"With every step they take allowing people with permits to have less restrictions, I guarantee you crime will go down," Lipscomb said.