Confusion Over New Georgia Gun Bill

9:02 PM, Mar 25, 2010   |    comments
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  • New law raises questions about where permitted pistols may be taken in Georgia.
    

ATLANTA -- Understandably, there's a lot of fear and a lot of confusion over SB 308, which would rewrite part of Georgia's gun laws -- especially over whether people will be able to carry a gun in church.

"Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King's mother was killed in Ebenezer church less than a few miles from here," said State Senator Donzella James (D-College Park), who strongly objects to the bill.

The bill's author, State Senator Mitch Seabaugh (R-Sharpsburg) points out that the crazed gunman who committed that murder was already breaking the law anyway.

In fact, some ministers want their members to be able to pack heat to help protect their congregations from the growing number of armed attacks on churches.

"If a thug entered our church with a loaded gun, we would be defenseless," said Rev. Jonathan Wilkins of Thomaston's Baptist Tabernacle.

SB 308 passed the State Senate Thursday evening by a 43-10 vote and now goes to the State House.

But what does it actually say about where guns may be taken in Georgia?

First of all, it only applies to pistols and not long guns like rifles and shotguns.

Second of all, it's already against state law to carry a pistol anywhere but your home or car without getting a Georgia Firearms License.

The bill only applies to owners with proper pistol permits.

Sen. Seabaugh says he wrote the bill to clear up confusion among handgun owners, police and prosecutors who have interpreted the law differently.

Basically the bill states where you CANNOT take a properly permitted pistol.

Like current law, it still bans them in any government building, jail or prison, school, mental health facility and polling place.

An earlier version would have allowed them on certain parts of college campuses, but the latest re-write leaves that decision up to the colleges themselves.

The biggest confusion has come over bars and churches where guns are currently banned completely.

The bill would still make them illegal in bars and churches unless the owner "permits the carrying of weapons by license holders."

"So unless you get that permission, then you still cannot carry into a place of worship or a bar," said Sen. Seabaugh.

His bill does not spell out how a church or bar is to get that message out, including whether to use signs.

That's up to them.

Seabaugh says one reason is because some property owners don't want to put up signs that would tell everyone they are unarmed and possibly defenseless.

Another possibly controversial part of the bill would allow permit holders to take pistols on to airport property, except in areas where federal law already bans them, such as high security areas.

But it would let them have the guns in parking lots and other non-restricted public areas of airports.

Last year Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and officials at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport said they would not allow handguns anywhere on airport property.

No word yet from new Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed if his administration will object to that provision.

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