The Georgia Senate approved legislation last week that would let churches decide whether they want to allow weapons in their places of worship.
The measure passed by a vote of 41-11. Republican Sen. Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga says the bill treats churches like any other private property and offers smaller churches a way to protect themselves.
The proposal passed with four amendments, including two that would allow gun owners with permits to have a concealed weapon in authorized county or municipal government buildings. That would include elected officials.
Republican Sen. Frank Ginn of Danielsville says elected officials "are now confronted daily with violence" and have a right to defend themselves.
Many local churches shied away from discussing the controversial issue.
Earl Pirkle, senior pastor at Central Baptist Church in Gainesville, said his church has not yet had a formal discussion about it.
"I'm personally not in favor of people bringing guns into churches," Pirkle said. "It just concerns me with an everyday person having a right to have a gun in their pocket or purse in a place of worship. We'll have to discuss it if it becomes law."
Pirkle said he's a strong believer in an individual's right to carry a gun, but having weapons in churches is concerning.
"As ministers and as leaders you're going to be saying things people don't always agree with," Pirkle said. "If somebody that's a little bit on the edge gets upset and they've got a gun in their pocket, they can just say ‘I'm going to pull it out right now.'"
Col. Jeff Strickland said if the measure becomes law, he does not think it will have a major impact on the Hall County Sheriff's Office.
"We have very few, if any, calls to churches in Hall County with regard to weapons or violence," Strickland said. "Most of the very large churches in the county employ off-duty security that would handle any issues that they have there. We are aware that across the country occasionally there is violence in churches. Of course, we would respond accordingly to any instance in churches."
Pirkle said his church participates in the Sheriff's Office "church watch" program. Pirkle said his church has fallen victim to people stealing Freon out of the air conditioning system and tires have been slashed on church vans.
"They bring church leaders together and give suggestions of how to help us better protect ourselves against any kind of church crimes," Pirkle said. "We want people to be able to come in and feel safe to worship."