January 26, 2014

Smart gun bill hits the target

Many gun control debates don’t fit neatly into left vs. right or pro-gun vs. anti-gun patterns.

Take the issue of whether otherwise law-abiding individuals should be allowed to carry guns into bars or houses of worship.

Those who reflexively call for greater restrictions on private gun ownership tend to oppose allowing gun owners to carry their weapons into churches or bars. But even many staunch gun rights supporters question the wisdom of allowing guns to be carried everywhere, especially into places where people have been drinking.

But the Georgia General Assembly seems poised to make the right choice on this matter. State Sen. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, says he plans to introduce a bill that would remove a state ban on carrying firearms into bars and churches.

State Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, says he backs that bill. Both men represent parts of Murray County.

The Jasperse bill would allow bar owners and individual churches to decide whether to permit guns on their premises. That’s the only legal answer to the debate over guns in bars and churches that is consistent with the private property rights that are the basis of our way of life. The state should not ban bars or churches from allowing guns. Nor should it force those that do not wish to allow guns to accept them.

In turn, individuals, both those who own guns and those who don’t, are free to patronize any bar or attend any church whose policies, including policies on allowing guns, they think are wisest.

The bill would also allow individual school boards to decide whether they want to allow trained and approved teaches and other employees to carry guns onto school grounds.

Again, this makes more sense than any one-size-fits-all policy mandated by the state. Despite such headline-making tragedies as the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, American schools are, on the whole, very safe places. Less than 1 percent of student homicides and suicides take place at school each year, according to federal statistics.

That said, when trouble does occur, a trained individual with a weapon might be able to act to stop it. And the presence of armed individuals might reduce the chances of any trouble starting. Local school boards, not state officials, are the ones who know their systems’ needs the best. They are the ones who should decide what their firearms policies should be.

The Jasperse bill also would strengthen already existing provisions that keep weapons permits from those who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or who have pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a crime.

In all, the bill strikes a good compromise between the rights of gun owners and the rights of bar owners and churches, between Second Amendment rights and public safety concerns.


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