Student leads online petition for concealed weapons at Centerville mall

bpurser@macon.comDecember 17, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- A 21-year-old Middle Georgia Technical College student says his passion for the lawful carrying of concealed weapons has been further fueled by the recent killings at a Connecticut elementary school.

The student, Warner Robins native James Holden, started an online petition Dec. 10 calling for the Houston County Galleria located in Centerville to allow mall patrons to carry concealed weapons after the Dec. 5 armed robbery of Kathleen woman in the mall parking lot. More than 170 people had signed the petition as of Monday afternoon.

Friday morning, a gunman forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and killed 20 students and six adults. The shooter, who took his own life at the school, shot and killed his mother in their home before the rampage.

“It’s definitely given me a new passion ... and fuel to fight for these rights,” said Holden, who is working toward an associate degree in business. “These administrators and school teachers had no defense against this crazy person with a gun.”

The massacre has renewed gun control debate.

“Just because a few people abuse something doesn’t mean everybody should not have the right to use (guns),” Holden said. “Should there be stricter gun laws? Yes.”

Holden noted that guns should be kept locked up, with only the person to whom the weapons belong having access.

“By banning them, all we do is only make thousands of gangs richer on illegal sales of guns and make them untraceable,” he said.

Holden said he’s had no response from Jana Reeves, mall manager at the Galleria.

However, Reeves told The Telegraph, the mall has no plans to change its no-weapons policy in light of the petition. Reeves noted that according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, the majority of shopping centers and malls also adhere to a no-weapons policy even if the state where the mall is located allows for weapons to be carried and concealed.

Reeves noted that the mall has highly-trained security and works well with Centerville police. Mall security personnel are not armed, Reeves said.

Holden said he learned about the armed robbery in the mall parking lot on the pro-gun carrying Facebook page: Houston County Carries Concealed. The page has received more than 1,200 “likes,” Holden said.

Kelly Burke, a Warner Robins attorney and a former Houston County district attorney who moderates the Facebook page, said he supports the petition to be able to carry guns at the mall and believes the Connecticut shooting demonstrates the need for people to be armed.

He used the analogy of residents being able to use a fire extinguisher to save property and lives until firefighters arrive to argue that school personnel should be trained and equipped to defend against intruders until law enforcement is on the scene. Burke argued that most shootings in America are happening in gun-free zones such as schools and churches.

Georgia law allows for people who have a weapons-carry license to do so anywhere except at any designated unauthorized locations, where guns are forbidden by the property owner or on any land or property owned or controlled by the federal government, according to the Warner Robins Police Department blog.

Unauthorized locations in Georgia include government buildings such as a courthouse or jail or mental health facility; place of worship; a bar unless allowed by the owner; nuclear power facility; within 150 feet of a polling place; any school building or school vehicle; or private property where the owner has prohibited it, according to the police blog.

However, Burke contends that while the mall or another business property owner may prohibit weapons, that does not make it illegal. It just means the gun carrier would be asked to leave the premises, Burke said.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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