Guns OK at the polls? Depends on where you vote

The “guns everywhere” law that went into effect July 1 broadened the number of places where Georgians can legally carry guns, including many public buildings.

The measure left intact a provision that bans guns near or within polling places, according to Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. At least one midstate county, however, is interpreting the law more liberally.

Kemp sent a note to elections officials June 25 reminding them that the new law has not changed the prohibition of guns within 150 feet of election sites.

“Our office has been getting some questions as to how the Safe Carry Protection Act (HB 60) affects the law regarding firearms and polling places,” Kemp wrote in the email. “The new law does not change any existing law regarding firearms in polling places. The Georgia Code states, ‘No person except peace officers regularly employed by the federal, state, county, or municipal government, or certified security guards shall be permitted to carry firearms within 150 feet of any polling place.’ ... We recommend checking with your county attorney to make sure your processes and procedures are in compliance with current law.”

Jones County officials are taking a different view of the situation, though.

Marion Hatton, the county’s elections superintendent, said she interprets the law to mean that guns are allowed in voting precincts there because the sites lack controlled access, and that is County Attorney Frank Childs’ interpretation as well.

“I do not have the authority to prohibit a license holder from entering the polling place with a firearm,” she wrote in an email discussing her decision, adding, “I see no need or advantage of a firearm in a polling place, and sincerely hope that further legislation is passed to prohibit them or allow local governments to adopt their own policies restricting firearms on government property.”

In Bibb County, to counter the notion that polling places are now open to firearms, Elections Supervisor Jeanetta Watson and her staff have prepared signs for Tuesday’s runoff to remind those on their way to vote to leave their guns elsewhere.

“You have got to have signs to remind them,” Watson said. “It’s like the other signs we have out there -- you cannot bring in cell phones, cameras or other recording devices -- or your gun.”

Houston County Elections Supervisor Joann Shipes was awaiting word from the county attorney to confirm Kemp’s interpretation, but she is interpreting the law in line with Kemp, said Beverly Nable, an elections assistant.

Monroe County Election Superintendant and Probate Court Judge Karen Pitman was still mulling what, if any, public notification to put at her polling places. She had not received calls from the public about it, though she had received the email from Kemp.

Bibb County Solicitor Rebecca Grist agreed with Kemp’s assessment that guns are prohibited from voting sites. If anyone were to violate the law in Bibb County, it would be a misdemeanor and the prosecutions would end up in her office.

“I would like not to see any of these,” she said.

Her reminder to voters in Bibb: “You cannot take your gun to a polling place.”

To contact writer Mark Vanderhoek call 744-4225.