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Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - 12:20pm

Georgia Governor To Sign ‘Unprecedented’ Gun Bill

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal will sign a controversial gun bill Wednesday in Ellijay at a ceremony and luncheon that’s expected to attract many supporters and double as a Second Amendment rally.

The so-called ‘guns everywhere’ bill will allow firearms in many churches, bars and government buildings. The bill will also bar sheriffs from asking someone with a gun if he or she has a license. Under the new bill, schools would have the option of deciding if teachers or administrators should be armed. The state will also have to report within 10 days Georgians’ involuntary commitments to hospitals.

The bill has generated a lot of national media attention, in part because it will combine guns and prayers – something folks in other states might not put together. An earlier version of the bill also included a provision that raised hackles: campus carry. College presidents, the state’s Board of Regents and others intervened a second year in a row to dissuade lawmakers from allowing guns on public university campuses.

Gun advocates caution against portraying Georgia as the Wild, Wild West now that the bill is about to become law on July 1. That’s because there are other states with less stringent firearms possession laws.

Bill Breaks New Ground On Stand Your Ground

But Georgia will be staking out new territory under one provision in the bill that’s related to the state’s Stand Your Ground law. The provision may waive criminal prosecution of felons who use illegal firearms in the commission of a crime of self-defense.

Colin Goddard who survived the 2007 campus shooting at Virginia Tech calls the provision alarming. He’s with Everytown For Gun Safety, an advocacy group funded by former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and he spent time lobbying Georgia lawmakers on the bill this year. He says most people have overlooked one small part of the bill, which nullifies a section of Georgia’s longstanding legal code.

“The language that was struck from the bill dealt with people who use a firearm illegally during the commission of a shooting,” he said. “We have never seen an attempt to expand any sort of state’s Stand Your Ground laws to include people who shoot and kill someone with a gun they have illegally in the first place.”

He said other states have loosened some of the same restrictions in Georgia’s bill; for example, allowing guns in churches. But the provision governing self-defense breaks new ground, Goddard said.

“The Stand Your Ground expansion is truly a new type of Stand Your Ground as we know it,” he said. “To expand it in such a way to remove all carrying or possession offenses is really unprecedented.”

Other States Still Less Restrictive

Jerry Henry with pushes back against Goddard’s claims. His group took the lead on lobbying for the bill. And he says while Georgia will now be less restrictive under the law, it won’t by a long shot have the loosest gun laws in the nation. And he said he doesn’t see the bill goosing gun sales or increasing gun-related businesses in Georgia. He also said it’s not going to be like a beacon to gun owners looking to move to a firearm-friendly state.

“I don’t think people are going to look at it and say, ‘Oh Georgia just passed a new law and I’m going to move over there because it’s so much easier.’ I don’t think we’re going to see that,” he said. “Arizona, Wyoming, Alaska, Vermont – they all have Constitutional Carry. You don’t have a license to carry up there.

He added, “Vermont, even though it is a Northeastern type state, a New England state, they have some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country. And it’s a liberal state.”

He also downplays the change that the law would produce in connection with Stand Your Ground, saying the most important part involves self-defense.

House Speaker David Ralston will preside over Wednesday’s gun bill signing. The Blue Ridge Republican is facing opposition in the May 20 primary election. But he says that’s not why he supported the bill. Speaking on the last night of the legislative session, Ralston said passing the gun bill was a key milestone.

NRA Republican Vs NRA Democrat

“We got the best bill we could get, and I think it was important to get one and we did and I’m pleased we did,” he said.

The bill may remain in the news as the Gov. Deal and his Democratic opponent, Jason Carter, go on campaigning until November. But that’s largely because Carter, a Democrat, voted for the Republican-backed measure, much to the chagrin of national Democrats who might consider pouring money into his campaign. Carter identifies himself as an “NRA Democrat.” And the National Rifle Association has endorsed both Carter and Deal in past elections.

And after the election, the issue is likely to resurface when lawmakers return to the Capitol next year. That’s because Henry with plans to keep lobbying until Georgia allows guns on college campuses. And while Goddard with Everytown is backing efforts to organize people who favor gun control, for now Georgians are not clamoring to tighten laws governing where they can take their firearms.