Guns at church, college next on Georgia lawmakers' agenda
The move comes on the heels of House Bill 89, which became law on July 1 and lets people with firearms licenses to carry guns into state parks, restaurants that serve alcohol and on mass transit.
Lawmakers could next push legislation allowing license holders to take their guns to church, or even onto college campuses.
"I personally feel there are a lot of restrictions that should not be there," said Senate Majority Whip Mitch Seabaugh (R-Sharpsburg), chairman of a Senate committee that began studying the state's gun laws Tuesday.
"People who get these [carry] permits are extremely law-abiding citizens," Seabaugh said. "Those who have no regard for the law are carrying guns anyway."
Seabaugh's committee met the day after a federal judge rejected a motion to allow those with carry licenses to take firearms into non-secure areas of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
City officials have declared the airport a gun-free zone. That led to the lawsuit by gun-rights group GeorgiaCarry.org and state Rep. Timothy Bearden (R-Villa Rica), sponsor of House Bill 89.
The lawsuit is moving forward. U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Shoob's ruling only addressed whether those with permits could carry guns into the airport while the lawsuit makes its way through court.
Seabaugh said state firearms laws are confusing, especially parts banning guns in or near public gatherings.
GeorgiaCarry.org President Ed Stone and Bearden spoke before the committee, made up of five senators, all of whom supported House Bill 89. The front row of the meeting room was filled with men wearing orange and black buttons that read "Guns save lives."
Alice Johnson of Georgians for Gun Safety said the meeting lacked objectivity.
"We don't disagree there should be some comprehensive changes," she said after the meeting, "but what we saw was only one side having the chance to express themselves.
"Firearms on college campuses and schools, those are some very serious issues."
Stone told the committee "there is no reason for disarming an adult attending educational facilities."
Bearden sponsored a bill this year, which didn't gain traction in the House, that would have allowed people to carry guns onto college campuses. Last year, discussion of allowing guns on campuses was stalled by the Virginia Tech shootings, which occurred during the 2007 session.
Committee member Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), said after the meeting that he supported allowing permitted guns on campuses but recognized lawmakers may face a constitutional roadblock.
Georgia's public universities are independently governed by the Board of Regents. Because that independence is built into the Georgia Constitution, the General Assembly may not be able to easily force a change on campuses.
University System lobbyists attended the committee meeting. University System spokesman John Millsaps later said the Regents support the current ban.
Guns in churches may be an easier change for legislators to make.
Coweta County Sheriff Mike Yeager told the committee that permit-holders generally aren't lawbreakers.
"We don't have the problems from the people who take the time to get the [carry] license," he said. "Those are the ones we don't worry about too much."
But Johnson, the gun safety advocate, questioned how police officers would know the difference if faced with someone carrying a weapon.
"The idea that somehow law enforcement can make a distinction between someone who is intending to commit harm and someone who is intending to defend other people, that's a false distinction," she said. "That's not something law enforcement can figure out on the front end."
— Staff writer Andrea Jones contributed to this article.
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