Bibb delegation split on provisions of gun proposal

mlee@macon.comFebruary 17, 2014 

ATLANTA -- After a year’s fighting, supporters may have knit together enough support to open houses of worship, bars and unsecured public buildings to firearms carried by licensed owners.

They’re also aiming to decriminalize having a gun on a college campus if the person carrying the weapon has a license.

Something close to a party line vote on the House floor Tuesday is likely if midstate legislators are any indication.

“I’m all for it. It’s a Second Amendment bill,” state Rep. Robert Dickey, R-Musella, said of House Bill 875.

“If bar owners don’t want to (open to concealed weapons), they don’t have to,” Dickey said.

Right now, state law says that concealed weapons, even licensed ones, can’t be taken into a place of worship at all or to a bar unless the owner says so. This bill would change that, opening houses of worship and bars to concealed carry by default. Then owners can decide if they want to prohibit such weapons.

The bill also would open public buildings such as city halls and courthouses if those buildings don’t have security screening at the door.

A similar bill in the Senate last year got stuck over expanded carrying on college campuses. The Board of Regents opposed it and peeled away several would-be Republican supporters.

This year’s bill would make licensed carry on a college campus a civil offense -- with a $100 fine -- instead of a criminal offense.

“I think people should have the right to protect themselves in places of worship,” said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, another strong supporter.

State Rep. Willie Talton, R-Warner Robins, said getting a concealed carry license means the person carrying the gun has taken on a responsibility.

“Just because someone is carrying a sidearm doesn’t mean they’re up to something detrimental,” said Talton, a retired Houston County deputy sheriff.

He said he supports the bill on Second Amendment grounds and because it gives people the right to regulate their own bar or church premises.

“My constituents want me to vote for it,” said state Rep. Susan Holmes, R-Monticello, and she plans to.

Representatives on the other side of the aisle are skeptical.

“My constituents are saying N-O, no,” especially in churches, said state Rep. Patty Bentley, D-Reynolds.

She knew the issue would reappear this year, so she has spent some time researching it.

“I’ve been visiting churches ... since December. Everyone is telling me no,” Bentley said.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” said state Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon. “In bars, for instance, a lot of the faculties you have when you are sober, you don’t have when you’re inebriated.”

He said he believes in the Second Amendment, but as for the bill, “you have to be responsible. Is it for the greater good of the public?”

State Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, called guns in bars “a ticking time bomb.”

Debate on the bill will last as long as it’s allowed. House GOP leaders expect enough of a fight that they’ve limited what will be a contentious debate to two hours.

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