Proponents of the notion that the best way to counter gun violence in America is to allow more citizens to carry weapons to more places, including schools, bars, churches and airports, are celebrating a new law passed in the state of Georgia this week that critics have dubbed the "carry anywhere" bill.
Arguably the most permissive gun law heading for the books of any state in the land, the Safe Carry Protection Act was signed into law by Georgia’s Republican Governor, Nathan Deal, who is seeking re-election this year, after it won strong bipartisan support in the state legislature. Those who voted for it included State Senator Jason Carter, a Democrat and the grandson of former president Jimmy Carter.
Citing the Second Amendment of the Constitution that outlines the right to bear arms, Governor Deal told supporters that the law will allow “people who follow the rules [to] protect themselves and their families from people who don’t follow the rules”. He added: “The Second Amendment should never be an afterthought. It should reside at the forefronts of our minds.”
Senator Carter, who is running to replace Mr Deal as governor in November’s elections, said he supported the law only after helping to make several amendments to it. It no longer, for example, allows people to carry concealed weapons on university campuses. In the case of churches, it will be up to pastors to opt in to allow worshipers to turn up to services with firearms, otherwise guns in their pews won’t be allowed.
“We’ve allowed communities to make those decisions for themselves,” he told NBC news. “There’s not an issue that I know of that’s more geographically polarising than guns. And there are some communities in my state that will feel safer if their school districts are allowed to make those decisions. And there’re other communities where they won’t. And those communities will get to decide for themselves.”
But once it becomes the law of the state on 1 July, the bill will allow anyone with a concealed carry permit far greater leeway as to where they can go while armed. About five per cent of Georgians have such a permit. They will be free to take guns into bars across the state, unless a bar owner posts notices barring them, into any government building that does not have metal detectors and even into those areas of airports that are not beyond passenger security checks. Airports affected will include Atlanta, the busiest in the world.
Provisions causing most controversy include one that will allow school administrators to authorise members of staff, which could include teachers, to carry weapons to work. This is the state’s response to the massacre of 20 school children and six staff members at a Connecticut primary school in 2012.
While pastors will have to give the green light before congregations can carry heat to the altar, some still lamented the law, including the Rev Raphael Warnock of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, site of a 1974 shooting that killed a deacon and Alberta Williams King, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mother. “I don’t know of a single pastor in the state of Georgia who has been lobbying to have guns brought into their churches,” he said. “When we say pass the peace, we mean P-E-A-C-E, not the P-I-E-C-E.”
The law was warmly welcomed by the National Rifle Association, NRA, which said it amounts to the “most comprehensive pro-gun bill in state history”. Its signing in law is a “momentous event,” it added. But Americans for Responsible Solutions, set up by Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was gravely wounded in a shooting in her state, expressed its dismay.
“The legislation was opposed by Georgia law enforcement, county commissioners, municipal leaders, and the Transportation Security Administration for its potentially harmful impact on Georgians’ safety,” said Pia Carusone, an advisor to the group, who added that it “forces community school boards into bitter, divisive debates about whether they should allow guns in their children's classrooms, and broadens the conceal carry eligibility to people who have previously committed crimes with guns.”
“Our politicians, tragically, are owned by the gun lobby,” the Rev Warnock said. “No one asked for this bill but the gun lobby, and still, we’re here. We will remind them in November that they work for the people.”