The Georgia House passed a bill Tuesday to allow guns in places of worship, bars, government buildings without security checkpoints, and even eliminate criminal charges for those who accidentally bring their guns to the airport or other secured buildings where guns are prohibited. The bill, a smorgasbord of new gun rights expansions that safety advocates say may amount to the most aggressive bill yet, also expands gun rights in both public K-12 schools and colleges, and even broadens the state’s expansive Stand Your Ground law.
Most of the bill’s provisions apply to anyone who has obtained a state concealed carry permit. While obtaining a permit requires a background check, it does not require any firearms training whatsoever. And another provision of the bill removes the misdemeanor offense of pointing a gun at someone from the list of crimes that bar access to such a permit. Advocates say this provision is particularly alarming for policing domestic violence incidents; currently, police can base a domestic violence gun confiscation on commission of this offense.
The state already has permissive gun laws that allow concealed carry in parks and public transportation. And the new bill seems to expand concealed carry to every conceivable place.
“It’s permeating through virtually every major public institution, virtually,” said Kathryn Grant, who heads the Georgia Gun Sense Coalition. “There aren’t any other spaces left.”
The bill, passed largely along party lines, pits the state’s particularly robust gun lobby against a bevy of residents who oppose particular provisions of the bill. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll in January found that 78 percent of Georgia registered voters opposed allowing guns on college campuses; 72 percent opposed allowing guns in churches; and 82 percent would require any gun owner who wanted to carry a weapon in public to first take a safety course.
While no polling was apparently conducted on those who support guns in bars, that provision is seeing some of the strongest opposition, given that alcohol frequently accompanies gun violence. A House bill passed last year that also would have allowed guns in bars and places of worship, but that bill never cleared the Senate. According to Washington State University Sociology Professor Jennifer Schwartz, “40% of male [homicide] offenders were drinking alcohol at the time” and about one in three female offenders were also engaged in drinking.
Places of worship have the option of prohibiting guns, but to do so, they have to post signs throughout their property, and are left to police the issue.
K-12 schools, likewise, have the option to give special permission for some faculty to carry guns. In the event they choose to do so, individual school boards are tasked with implementation outside their expertise, including establishing a list of approved firearms and ammunition, setting firearms training standards, and running their own background checks.
“It’s inappropriate responsibility for a teacher or a school employee,” Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense Georgia Chapter Leader Piyali Cole told ThinkProgress.
In airports, individuals with a valid concealed carry punishment would not be arrested for taking their guns through security clearance. TSA agents do not have authority to arrest, so when they stop someone with a gun, that person is typically referred to local law enforcement. At other major airports, local protocol is to arrest that person. But Georgia is home to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, pegged the world’s busiest airport. Carrying guns to the airport is a particular problem at Hartsfield-Jackson, which already leads the nation in the number of guns confiscated.
The law would also roll back criminal penalties for gun offenses in several other contexts. On college campuses, carrying a gun would become a civil offense subject to a fine rather than arrest. And Stand Your Ground immunity, which allows individuals to use deadly force in self-defense without a duty to retreat, would be extended to offenses committed on public transportation. The provision advanced in the House even as the state Senate considered a measure to repeal the notorious Stand Your Ground law altogether.
Other provisions allow those between the ages of 18 and 21 who have served in the military to obtain a concealed carry permit, and allow guns in any government building that does not require security clearance, including libraries, tax assessors, and other buildings that may not have invested in a robust security presence. The bill also authorizes lawsuits to enforce any attempt at local gun regulation, with legal fees to be paid by the state, over the objection of several local government associations who expect increased liability premiums.
Local advocates fighting the bill have been so overwhelmed by its scope that they have struggled to focus sufficient attention on any one provision.
Moms Demand Action’s Cole said one of their goals in lobbying the Senate is simply to “at least go through the bill in detail” to make sure lawmakers are aware of every provision on which they are voting.
“It is absolutely comprehensive and sweeping in its implications,” Georgia Gun Sense Coalition’s Grant told ThinkProgress.