A bill that would allow gun owners with permits to carry firearms onto college campuses and into churches and bars passed a key Senate committee on Monday and could soon be headed for the full Senate.
The Special Judiciary Committee voted 7 to 1 in favor of Senate Bill 308. State Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, the sponsor, reiterated on Monday that the bill is aimed at clarifying the firearms carry law for Georgia’s 300,000 gun owners with permits to carry weapons.
"I believe the government does not have a place in telling private property owners what to do as far as the Second Amendment is concerned," said Seabaugh, from Sharpsburg, the Senate’s Republican whip.
Under the legislation, restaurant owners, churches and other private property owners could choose whether to exclude people carrying guns from their property. The Board of Regents would determine the policy for the state’s college campuses.
Regents officials and several college presidents have testified against the bill this year, saying it endangers students, faculty and staff and weakens state law.
"We still prefer the current law that prohibits guns in our classrooms, prohibits guns in our laboratories, prohibits guns in our dormitories and prohibits guns at our athletic events," Regents spokesman John Millsaps said. "Any board policy we would set cannot be as strong as state law."
The latest version of the Senate proposal removes the 1,000-foot school safety zone clause for licensed carriers, which Seabaugh said was confusing, especially on campuses located in downtown Atlanta with murky boundaries.
The bill would also take firearms licensing away from Georgia’s 159 county probate judges and centralize the process under the secretary of state’s office.
During the hearing, some lawmakers expressed concern about the cost that agency could incur as a result of a new law.
Sen. Donzella James of Atlanta called the law unnecessary and potentially dangerous.
"We don’t need more guns in the hands of everyday people," James said after the hearing. "Crime is rampant. These are desperate times. Don’t make this the Wild Wild South."
Legislative leaders have been cool to the idea of a new battle over guns this year, arguing that the state’s budget woes will take precedence over nearly everything else this session.
Gov. Sonny Perdue has said that he was not inclined to back any new gun laws that pit gun rights against private property rights. In 2008, Perdue signed a measure that allowed those with permits to carry firearms in state parks, restaurants that serve alcohol and mass transit.