Local News

January 26, 2014

Lawmakers take aim at gun restrictions

After an unsuccessful push last year to legalize carrying a gun on college campuses under certain conditions, two local lawmakers are leading the charge to relax gun restrictions in other areas.

State Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, said he plans to introduce a bill this week that would decriminalize the act of carrying a gun inside a bar or place of worship for someone otherwise qualified to have a firearm. The draft bill would also allow individual boards of education to set policies allowing trained and approved teachers and other employees to carry guns into schools.

Jasperse, whose district includes part of Murray County, said he understands criminals won’t abide by gun restrictions, but he wants to make sure the Legislature isn’t penalizing “good Georgians.” As the bill’s main sponsor, Jasperse said he also included provisions aimed at keeping state-issued weapons permits out of the hands of those with known mental issues.

Measures already on the books detail a process for probate judges to check applicants’ mental histories if they have been involuntarily committed to an institution within the past few years, but this bill would require that that information be updated more quickly. It would also prohibit issuing a weapons permit to someone who has mounted an insanity defense to a crime, or who has in court been adjudicated not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity.

State Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun, was on a committee assigned to reach a compromise between House and Senate versions of a similar bill that didn’t go through last year, and he said he backs Jasperse’s new bill and hopes removing the controversial campus carry provision will help it pass. Last year’s bill was passed by House members and remains in the Senate where officials said rules allow for it to be revived this session.

That bill from last year would have allowed college presidents to choose whether to allow guns on their campuses, but Meadows said legal counsel advised lawmakers that would run afoul of Georgia’s Constitution, which stipulates only the state has authority to decide how to regulate firearms. A measure allowing guns on all campuses would have been too controversial to get through, he said.

Under the new bill, Jasperse said, the state will recognize bars and places of worship as private property and simply back out of prohibiting firearms on the premises. Those property owners would still have the right to order someone carrying a gun to leave. If the person stays, they could be charged with trespassing.

The proposed changes has been met with mixed reaction.

Dalton State College senior Russell Smith, a history major from Calhoun, said he feels better knowing guns — outside of the hands of police — will remain banned from campus.

“We do have public safety officers on campus that do carry guns, and it’s their job to protect us,” he said.

Derek Kozlowski, a Dalton resident with military experience, said he welcomes measures that ease prohibitions on where license holders can carry.

“If you’re responsible enough to have a carry permit, then you ought to be allowed to carry becaue the people who are going to do things bad are going to have guns regardless,” he said. “For the rest of us to not be protected is a crime in itself.”

Jasperse said a federal law banning guns on public school property already allows local school system leaders to set policies for named individuals to be able to carry them there legally. If the proposed bill passes, it would remove a broader state ban on firearms in schools, requiring instead that local school districts train and approve any employees they allow to carry and that they set policies regulating what kinds of firearms and ammunition are allowed.

Fred Gould of the regional unit of the Georgia Association of Educators that includes Whitfield and Murray counties said the organization supports school resource officers in schools but would likely have a lot of questions about the proposed state bill.

“We would want to scrutinize anything of that nature that’s going to bring additional guns onto campus, no matter what the circumstances,” he said.

Holly Creek Baptist Church Pastor Danny Cochran said he has mixed feelings about the proposal and how it would affect places of worship. Cochran said that while he would support having people properly trained to use firearms — such as police officers — in a house of worship, allowing people who are not properly trained to carry weapons could “cause more harm than it prevents.” Yet he also said he supports law-abiding citizens’ rights to carry firearms.

Cochran said he understands from safety training he’s undergone that in most shootings at church buildings, the incident is over before law enforcement arrives. That means churches need to have safety programs in place to address potential problems, he said.

“We live in a changing environment, and churches are no longer a safe haven,” Cochran said.

Another proposed change is legalizing gun carry in government buildings where there are no security checkpoints. Weapons would still be prohibited at courthouses and other places where people are screened before entering.

Jasperse said the bill contains numerous smaller changes to existing law, and he hopes those tweaks will make gun carry for law-abiding citizens easier. He said he heard ears-full from would-be voters when he was campaigning and hopes this bill addresses some of their concerns.

“This is the No. 1 question that was asked: ‘How do you feel about the Second Amendment? What are you going to do to protect our Second Amendment rights?’” Jasperse said. “So I’m just listening to people and working for what I have been asked by many, many, many people to work on.”


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