God, guns and marijuana.
No, that’s not a Charlie Daniels song or a Hunter S. Thompson novel, but the general theme of this year’s Georgia General Assembly session, winding toward a finish this week.
It was eight years ago then-candidate for president Barack Obama famously derided those who live in rural and Southern states for clinging to religion and guns, a snide swipe from a Harvard-educated Yankee who apparently didn’t understand Americans outside of his Beltway-to-Chicago axis.
Yet Georgia lawmakers seem bent on fulfilling that unfortunate stereotype with this year’s agenda. Thankfully, a truly conservative governor has sounded the voice of reason. More on that in a bit.
And we’ll leave the medical marijuana discussion for now, though its passage would have improved lives much more profoundly than other, less vital issues, as seen in a story on page 1A today.
Instead, lawmakers spent more time and energy on firearms in their 40-day session than one might see in a “Die Hard” movie. The thrust was for “campus carry,” allowing 21-year-olds with a license carry guns on state college campuses, ostensibly to protect themselves from crime.
This idea is opposed by college administrators, who know the risk of accidents or misuse in a setting that mixes immaturity, alcohol and more immaturity. They worry of safety, and perhaps the increased liability costs insurance companies might incur. It’s unsettling to imagine the kid who just got a D on his chemistry exam is packing heat.
And while the bill creates a few limits, such as not allowing guns in dormitories, fraternity houses or sporting events (to the relief of referees), it would allow them in other locales, including child care centers, classrooms and libraries. But if a student who lives in a dorm or frat house, and has no car, wants to stroll around campus with a sidearm on his belt, where does he store his hogleg overnight? The saddle bags on his horse?
Gov. Nathan Deal stepped in and disarmed this risky notion until a more thoughtful approach can be made. If the concern, as stated, is to give students more protection from thugs lurking in the shadows, a better idea would be to beef up security and keep deadly force in the hands of those trained to use it.
Still ongoing is the effort to pass a religious liberty bill, House Bill 757 co-sponsored by Dawsonville Republican Rep. Kevin Tanner. A similar effort failed last year but was resurrected by last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage. Its backers claim pastors and faith-based institutions need legal protection from compromising their beliefs with such nuptials.
Deal tapped the brakes on this bill after it passed, largely over concerns from both the LGBT community and Georgia industries that any law codifying discrimination against legal behavior is bad for business, possibly unconstitutional and just wrong.
He urged lawmakers to work out the kinks, so they sent him a revised bill at week’s end. Key provisions would prevent penalizing faith-based organizations that refuse to hire or provide services to people when their beliefs clash, and protect pastors who decline to perform same-sex ceremonies. But even if the law is considered mild and reasonable compared to other efforts, its perception of a “scarlet letter” stain of intolerance remains.
Said Rep. Karla Drenner, a Democrat from Avondale Estates, the state’s first openly gay lawmaker: “What it says to me is that ‘there’s something wrong with you, Karla.’”
The imagined concern this bill targets appears to be a straw man. Couples, same-sex and otherwise, are going to seek clergy and cake bakers who are sympathetic to their unions, not drag them to their altar at gunpoint (though Georgia does allow firearms in houses of worship, so that’s technically possible). It’s a law that, like so many others, could do more harm than good.
Gay-rights advocates warn the bill could spark boycotts against some of the state’s top employers, as Indiana endured last year, and perhaps drive some to greener and more welcoming pastures. Is addressing a phantom fear worth losing jobs and tax revenue provided by the likes of AT&T, Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Home Depot or UPS? The law also could torpedo the state’s growing film and entertainment industry.
Ironically, just a day earlier, the legislature approved sales tax exemptions for Super Bowl tickets to help lure the NFL’s signature event back to Atlanta. But will such events, be they a Super Bowl or Final Four, arrive to help pay for that billion-dollar stadium rising downtown if the state is branded as insensitive to certain groups? The NFL already is hinting it will bypass Atlanta if the bill becomes law, and other organizations may follow.
Since both issues raise concerns, we applaud the governor for his prudent refusal to rush foolishly into laws that might open ugly cans of worms. Some call second-term leaders “lame ducks,” but that freedom from re-election often spawns wisdom rather than cave-ins to campaign interests. If only all elected officials were similarly inspired.
In fact, Deal is taking a more conservative stance than his party brethren under the Gold Dome. “Conservative” means to act with caution and discretion, to think things through carefully before jumping into massive changes. Funny how the meaning of that word has changed, and is embraced by many politicians who can’t wait to increase government’s power and influence over those it serves. Big government is bad, it seems, unless you’re in it.
It also should be the mantra of a true conservative to trust the U.S. Constitution and the freedoms it protects quite capably without needless add-ons. Like the First Amendment printed above, which shields the right to choose our own spiritual journeys. And the Second Amendment, which allows us to defend our homes. Both are still in solid working order, despite fears to the contrary.
To send a letter to the editor, use this form or send to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Times editorial board includes Publisher Charlotte Atkins, General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas.