The legislation, signed by Gov. Nathan Deal in April, broadens the state’s gun carry laws, but how that impacts the community remains to be seen.
“I’m sure that there is going to be a lot of television media, they’ll go around to places where there are signs posted. They may make it more of an issue than it really is, but I think that if there wasn’t a lot of fanfare with it, you would not be able to tell any difference from today and Tuesday,” said Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville) on Saturday. “... People typically don’t change until there is a lot of conversation, interaction on what’s going to happen and how dangerous this is or how this could make things less safe or more safe. ... All of a sudden you’ve got a controversy over something that is already happening it’s just now becoming law with a few guidelines.”
One of the more controversial aspects of HB 60 deals with guns in schools. Under the measure, local school boards will be free to decide whether to allow teachers and other staff to bring guns on campus. Training prerequisites are outlined in the bill.
Locally, Cartersville City Schools Superintendent Howard Hinesley said the system would not have administrators carrying guns, but Bartow County Schools has not yet said whether the board will consider the matter.
Battles initially addressed school safety in House Bill 35, which would have addressed arming school officials.
“That was ... part of my legislation,” he said. “... I proposed that anyone who was designated by the school board would be certified as any other police officer would be, have to go through all the training and become that resource officer. So, yeah, I did that portion of it, but there was a lot more than just arming someone. It was becoming a certified ... officer.”
Churches also now will be able to choose whether to allow guns inside the building. House Bill 60 places a $100 fine on any gun owner who brings a gun against the wishes of the church, while a non-licensed owner would face misdemeanor charges. Prior to the change, carrying a gun into places of worship was illegal.
In addition, gun owners will be able to carry inside bars unless the establishment owner tells the person to leave.
“Of course that was not part of my bill, but what that does is, that gives churches, bars and other areas to option if they wish not to have anyone carrying a weapon they can post that and no one can legally carry a weapon into that [establishment],” Battles said.
Although Bartow County Probate Court saw an increase in weapons carry permit applications several years ago — from a handful per day to more than two dozen each day, Probate Judge Mitchell Scoggins said no uptick was evident ahead of Tuesday’s carry changes. More than anything, he said, callers have questions about the legislation.
“We don’t really want to get into telling them what they can and can’t do,” he said, adding the court refers callers to websites such as www.georgiacarry.org or www.gapacking.org for analysis of the bill.
Two areas of the new law affect Probate Court, however.
Now those over the age of 18 who are a current or honorably discharged member of the United States military may receive a carry license, a change to the prior laws.
Also, the fees for permits will change. While Scoggins said the court used to treat each renewal as a new application and charged $79, House Bill 60 dictates that renewals cost $30 anytime prior to or within 30 days of expiration. New applications, even if the applicant was licensed in another county, will remain at $79.
Despite concerns from some critics that HB 60 puts officers at greater risk, Cartersville Police Chief Tommy Culpepper expects little change for his agency.
“I do not anticipate extreme changes for the department, however, I do envision that we will encounter more weapons in the course of our job. That alone is cause for a heightened sense of alert on the part of the officers working the streets,” he said. “The biggest impact I foresee, for this and other communities, is that with more weapons being carried and a society that seems to be turning more aggressive and antagonistic is the potential to see more violent encounters between citizens. Sometime when tempers are short and the pressure is on, people act and react with what they have close to them.”
Law enforcement can no longer stop someone carrying a weapon solely to determine whether the individual has a permit to carry.
“We will continue to train our officers in the current laws and the best practices on enforcing them. We conduct legal update training throughout the year. The weapons laws will certainly be a challenge for law enforcement across the state,” Culpepper said. “I would like people to understand that the purpose of law enforcement is not to trample on the rights of citizens, but to protect them. When someone calls and reports a person with a gun, we have to respond and look into the issue. HB 60 puts some limits on how we do that, but we will respond because public safety is our job.”
For Culpepper the potential for problems exists with the section regarding government buildings. The law authorizes the carrying of a weapon in a government building when the building is open and when access is not restricted or screened by security personnel.
Airport and government building regulations were loosened, too. Licensed gun owners may have their weapon inside airport common areas, and should they bring it to security checkpoints, they will be allowed to leave without ramifications. No one will be allowed past TSA checkpoints with a gun. Unsecured government buildings are now open to gun carriers, meaning facilities without security checkpoints or metal detectors.
Other changes include:
• Allowing lawful possession in individual dwellings of public housing, unless otherwise stipulated.
• The use of silencer when hunting on private property of the person using the silencer or suppressor; on private property where permission was granted; or on public land designated for such hunting methods was approved by the Department of Natural Resources.
• A person lawfully carrying a weapon shall not be detained solely for the purpose of questioning whether the person has a license.
• Private property owners can no longer forbid possession of weapons or long guns on their property but they may, after giving notice, exclude or eject persons from their property who possess the weapons.
“... Actually, if you think about it, anyone who had a permit to carry was carrying, and really, ... it was kind of that gray area where no one was restricted because no one was really assured of where they could or could not carry a weapon. This gave a little more clarity to that. I think to clarify that that’s a good thing. ... I don’t think you’ll see a major change,” Battles said. “You may see some who are a little more showy with that permit to carry that weapon. We’ve been seeing individuals, even in Cartersville, that are actually carrying a weapon on their side. Honestly, that’s to their discretion. There’s not any law that restricts them from doing that.
“... That was the benefit, I guess, of the legislation was a little more understanding of the rights of businesses and the rights of individuals to carry a weapon. It also gave those businesses the right to say, ‘No, you can’t have it here,’ businesses and churches.”
Going forward, Battle said he is considering the possibility of introducing legislation during the next session of the General Assembly to education and training for those looking to receive a carry license.
“I think that we do have Second Amendment rights and we should be able to exercise those, but I think we need to do that responsibly. As it is right now, there is nothing to say that anyone can’t purchase a weapon without any training, without any knowledge of how to use that weapon and they could be more dangerous to themselves than they are to someone who wished them harm,” he said. “I’d like to see at least some kind of training. ... There’s just some things that I think would be beneficial to people who wish to exercise their right but have never been around any type of gun before. That is what I would like to see, now not restricting anyone. ... Just have something that at least gets a little more clarification as to how to maintain, to use, to defend yourself as well as how to be safe and safe to others.”
Currently, the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office offers use of force and firearms safety training to citizens. For more information, contact the agency’s training division at 770-382-5050.
For the full 29-page House Bill 60, visit www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20132014/HB/60. A breakdown of the bill also is available through Project Vote Smart at http://votesmart.org/bill/17646/47197/amends-firearm-laws#.U68V9Ov95Xw.