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Bill to allow guns in Ga. bars stirs debate

ATLANTA — If the state Legislature passes a gun bill under consideration this week, it will be legal to enter a bar or restaurant with a licensed concealed weapon and get drunk.

It will still be illegal, though, to fire that weapon while drinking, thanks to a blanket prohibition against discharging weapons while intoxicated that’s already in state law.

At issue is Senate Bill 308, which strikes down the current state prohibition that keeps even licensed gun owners from legally carrying their weapons into bars. The bill would allow bar owners to decide whether to allow concealed weapons in their establishments, as well as change other things in an effort to clarify the state’s confusing tapestry of gun laws.

But in doing so, SB 308 would do away with a restriction against drinking while carrying a gun put into law in 2008, when the state Legislature decided to allow licensed owners to carry in restaurants. That legislation, House Bill 89, allows people to carry guns in restaurants, provided they don’t drink.

That language would be removed under Senate Bill 308.

“It will make it legal to carry a gun into a bar and drink,” said Alice Johnson, director of Georgians for Gun Safety. “A concealed, loaded firearm. ... It’s crazy.”

But state Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, said last week that Georgia hasn’t had a problem with licensed gun owners drinking and behaving dangerously. And GeorgiaCarry.org, a Second Amendment group, says allowing people to carry a gun and drink is a bit like allowing drinkers to hang on to their car keys.

“But you can’t drive your car,” GeorgiaCarry attorney John Monroe said.

The issue inspired some debate last week when the bill cleared a House committee, making it available for debate and a vote by the full House of Representatives today. State Rep. Randal Mangham, D-Decatur, said it’s reasonable to expect people in a bar to get drunk and fight.

“Now kids are not fighting with hands, they’re not fighting with knives. They just pull out a gun,” Mangham said.

But Seabaugh countered that problems with guns invariably come from people who aren’t licensed to carry them but do so anyway. Senate Bill 308 does include a prohibition that would keep anyone hospitalized in “any mental hospital or alcohol or drug treatment center” in the past five years from obtaining a license to carry a concealed weapon.

The bill’s fate is not yet clear. The Georgia General Assembly will meet for two more days this session — today and Thursday — and the bill will have to clear the full House to stay alive. Another bill, Senate Bill 291, also deals with state gun laws, but its main focus is on allowing people to carry concealed weapons in unsecured portions of airports. That includes the parking lots and up to the security checkpoints inside the airports.

That bill also awaits approval by the full House.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.

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