ELLIJAY, Ga. — It’s legal for licensed gun owners in Georgia to pack heat in bars, schools, churches and some government buildings.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, on Wednesday signed the state’s “Safe Carry Protection Act,” which critics dubbed the “guns everywhere bill,” in north Georgia, on the edge of the Chattahoochee National Forest and Cohutta Wilderness area.
“Our state has some of the best protections for gun owners in the United States. And today we strengthen those rights protected by our nation’s most revered founding document,” Deal said in signing the bill.
The new law, which goes into effect July 1, allows licensed gun owners in Georgia and visitors from 28 other states to bring a gun into a bar without restrictions and carry a firearm into some government buildings that don’t have security measures. It also allows school districts to decide whether they want some employees to carry a firearm and religious leaders to decide whether to allow licensed gun owners to tote to their church, synagogue or mosque.
Since Jan. 1, 6 states have eased gun laws, 6 states have strengthened them and 4 states have both eased and strengthened firearm laws, according to Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Deal signed the bill here because state House Speaker David Ralston, who championed the measure in the state House, represents the area, according to Deal’s office.
The new law provoked intense debate. Both supporters and opponents flocked to the state. The National Rifle Association called it “the most comprehensive pro-gun reform legislation introduced in recent history.” The gun rights group GeorgiaCarry.org believes the bill will “restore our right to carry and be allowed to protect ourselves anywhere we go,” according to executive director Jerry Henry.
Opponents include Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group co-founded by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, which called it the nation’s most extreme gun bill and said it “moves Georgia out of the mainstream.” Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America also lobbied against the bill. It’s “a very, very dangerous kill bill,” said their national spokeswoman, Lucia McBath, whose 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was killed in November 2012 in Jacksonville, Fla., in a dispute over loud music.