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April 1, 2014

Gun bill changes permitted carry provisions

MILLEDGEVILLE — House Bill 60 related to the permitted carrying and possession of firearms passed both chambers of the Georgia General Assembly on Sine Die March 20.

The “Safe Carry Protection Act” packs in several potential changes to state law concerning where an individual can carry and be punished for carrying a particular firearm. Both local legislators, state Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville) and Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson), voted in favor of the bill in their respective bodies.

Ga. Gov. Nathan Deal hasn’t signed the bill to date.

Amendments relating to carrying weapons in pubic places highlight what some portray as “controversial” bills.

Kidd said Second Amendment gun rights are always a polarizing issue.

“That’s what it boils down to. You have very emotional people on both sides,” the representative said.

Milledgeville Police Chief Dray Swicord said gun unfamiliarity and school shooting media hype have shed a bad light on the topic.

“People who’ve grown up around weapons don’t see it like that,” the police chief said.

According to HB 60’s language, a person with an active carry permit can enter a bar or a church, if the governing body or authority of the place of worship or business allows the carrying of weapons or long guns by licensed holders.

Kidd doesn’t see much actual change HB 60 would make.

“It doesn’t vary much from existing law that says if you don’t want a gun in a place you don’t have to have them there,” he said.

Swicord sees small tweaks to the status quo.

“I stand behind the background check of obtaining that permit, and if a person is able to obtain that permit then I’m for them being able to carry a weapon into a place,” Swicord said. “Do I think that carrying a gun into a bar is the right thing to do? Absolutely not. That’s where the bar owner should have sense enough to say I reserve the right and don’t want any weapons allowed in my place.”

The bill also authorizes license holders to carry a weapon in a government building when the building is open for business and where ingress into such building is not restricted or screened by security personnel.

Someone carrying a weapon can’t be detained by law enforcement for the “sole purpose of investigating whether such person has a weapons carry license,” if this bill becomes law.

Theoretically if a person is walking down the street with a gun on his or her hip or has the gun in plain view at a traffic checkpoint, a law enforcement officer can’t ask for a permit for that firearm.

“That’s the only potentially bad part about the bill,” Kidd said Monday.

Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee isn’t fond of this investigative constraint.

“We think that puts law enforcement in a strange situation,” the long serving sheriff said. “It’s not an anti-weapon position. It’s purely a public and officer safety position.”

Schools also may be impacted if the measure becomes law.

An official of a public elementary or secondary school or a public or private technical school, vocational school, college, university or other institution of post-secondary education or a local board of education may allow a teacher or other selected personnel to carry a specific weapon for a detailed amount of time under the state gun legislation.

At a minimum, volunteer personnel would undergo training on judgment, marksmanship and self-defense law. The weapon must be concealed either on the person or in a locked box, etc.

“I think a teacher should be able to carry a firearm if they went through the background check and obviously are familiar with firearms. I’d want my kid’s teacher to have a weapon on them if someone came in there,” Swicord said.

HB 60 does protect someone with a weapons carry permit entering restricted commercial airport security screening checkpoints. Those in possession of a weapon who immediately leave the restricted access area following proper notification and completion of federally required transportation security screening procedures aren’t considered violators.

“If you make that mental mistake, you can get out of it a little quicker,” Kidd said. “It loosens the standard to prove you aren’t a terrorist and just forgot you had a gun in your briefcase.”

Persons with mental health issues or criminal records may petition for relief of certain licensing exceptions.

The judge “may require any such person to sign a waiver authorizing the superintendent of any mental hospital or treatment center to make to the judge a recommendation regarding whether such person is a threat to the safety of others.”

“The court shall grant the petition for relief if such court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the person will not likely act in a manner dangerous to public safety in carrying a weapon and that granting the relief will not be contrary to the public interest,” page 14 of the bill reads.

Each county’s probate court judge may, on application under oath and on payment of a $30 fee, issue a weapons carry license or renewal license valid for a period of five years to any person whose domicile is in that county or who is on active duty with the United States armed forces.

The license authorizes that person the right to carry “any weapon in any county of this state notwithstanding any change in that person’s county of

residence or state of domicile.

Deal has 40 days from the March 20 end of the legislative session to sign bills into law, allow them to become law without his signature, or veto them. Unless it is vetoed, the bill will take effect July 1.

“If we find that it’s going into law, we’ll meet with all of our people and have internal training where everybody is very knowledgeable of the dos and don’ts of this new law,” Massee said. “However the governor does the law, we want to make sure we are in true compliance with it.”

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