In the wake of the December mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., wide ideological differences in gun control are being reflected in legislative proposals across Georgia and the nation.
Though President Barack Obama has announced his adminstration’s support for federal gun control measures, it is unlikely that Georgia’s Republican-controlled Senate and House will limit restrictions on ammunition or certain weapons.
“I haven’t seen any bills yet, but I would be inclined to support legislature that is consistent with the Second Amendment,” said state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville. “It is your constitutional right to bear arms, and we should do nothing to infringe on the Constitution. Period.”
Rep. Lee Hawkins said going forward, any legislation should focus on keeping kids safe.
“I believe the most important aspect is that we address protecting our children in school. That’s the No. 1 focus,” he said.
The local lawmakers’ views are similar statewide to other GOP members who are in no hurry to restrict firearms. In fact, just the opposite: Rank-and-file Republicans have introduced varying bills that would expand the right to carry weapons.
Freshman Rep. Charles Gregory, R-Kennesaw, has four bills that would effectively make Georgia an open-carry state, including in churches and on campuses. He hasn’t taken any action beyond pre-filing the proposals before the session began.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal hasn’t included any gun-related bills in his priorities for the session that began Jan. 14. His lieutenants are quick to emphasize that the governor won’t back, much less sign, any new gun restrictions or regulations. They otherwise suggest that he is content with the status quo, and instead turn questions toward mental health.
“He wants to make sure that administratively at the state level we are taking proper precautions when it comes to purchases by individuals with mental illness,” Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said.
Other leaders are in step.
“I don’t expect that the Georgia House will adopt a measure, if any is adopted at all, that will be restrictive of the rights of Georgians to own and bear arms,” said House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican. “I think it’s probably more appropriate that we step back, catch our breath, and look at the broader picture. I think this might be an appropriate time, for example to have a conversation about mental illness and how we treat mental illness.”
Some Democrats have called for new gun restrictions, but they haven’t offered specifics and their minority status in the General Assembly gives them little sway.
Both Hawkins and Miller favor the idea of armed security guards at schools proposed by the National Rifle Association following the Connecticut shootings.
“In light of the recent tragedies, I would be inclined to support legislation that would provide for armed — trained and armed protection — for our children and our schools,” Miller said.
Georgia has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation. In 2010, lawmakers lifted restrictions that had long banned gun owners from bringing their weapons into public gatherings.
The overhaul left intact restrictions that prohibited bringing guns into government buildings, courthouses, jails and prisons, state mental health facilities, nuclear plants and houses of worship. It also restricted owners from bringing weapons into bars without permission from the owner.
Hawkins said gun control legislation created a slippery slope.
“My support of the Second Amendment is total, and people have the right to own weapons,” he said. “Once we start trying to limit the number of shells in magazines, who determines what that number is? Ten today, five tomorrow?”
Miller emphasized that legislating reactively was not the purpose of government.
“You have to move slowly and deliberatively, and with a wide range of view points,” he said.
But his view on the constitutional right to bear arms is uncompromising.
“The Second Amendment is the law of the land, and there should be nothing that infringes on the Second Amendment,” Miller said.
Georgia Superintendent John Barge tries to thread the needle on guns. He declined to comment on specific proposals, but spoke highly of school resource officers.
“They were added security for me and my building,” he said of his time as a high school principal. But on the idea of arming any other adult on campus, Barge said, “I think I’d be a little more cautious than I would be in terms of an SRO.”