Law
4:30 pm
Sun June 22, 2014

Georgia's New Pro-Gun Law Triggers Confusion For Some Residents

Originally published on Mon June 23, 2014 8:11 am

Starting on July 1, when the Safe Carry Protection Act goes into effect, Georgians with gun permits will have many more places to take their weapons. The law is considered the most sweeping pro-gun measure passed in the U.S. this year. Opponents call it the "Guns Everywhere" bill.

Outside of Georgia, the bill has already been fodder for comedians like Stephen Colbert. But inside the state, the law's no joke — it's creating confusion for many Georgia residents, who are trying to figure out what it will mean for them.

For one, the law says that licensed gun owners can carry their weapons into bars and churches — if the bar owner or church council allows them in. And school personnel can have weapons — if the school board approves.

Then — and this is the source of the most confusion — the law says gun owners can carry a weapon into "unsecured government buildings," such as libraries or city halls, without approval.

A Librarian's Guide To Gun Owners

To figure out what the new law will mean, a group of 60 librarians from around Atlanta recently met with their director, Alison Weissinger, who explained that librarians won't be allowed to check to see if a gun owner has a permit.

"Joe Patron walks into the Redan-Trotti Library and has a gun on his hip," she said. "You ... can't walk up to him and say, 'Mr. Patron, do you have a carry permit for that weapon?' You can't do that."

But that just raised more questions. "What if someone walks in with their gun and then they just put it on the desk beside their computer?" asked Alanna Maddox. "Can we say anything? I mean, what if there are children running around? Are we not allowed to even say, 'Hey, can you take the gun off the desk and put it on you?' "

"That I don't know," Weissinger said.

'They're Basically Crying Chicken Little'

Georgia Carry is a gun rights group that backed the new law. John Monroe, a lawyer for the organization, says opponents are overreacting to the part of the law that prevents asking a gun owner to show a permit.

"They're basically crying Chicken Little over something that's not that big a deal," Monroe says.

He says gun permit holders should be treated just like drivers, who can't be stopped by police who just want to check their drivers' licenses without reason.

"Local authorities are blowing this 'detain for a license' thing way out of proportion," Monroe says. "It's already a violation of the Constitution to stop somebody just to see if they have a license."

Want To Keep Guns Out? A Sign Won't Cut It

City employees will also have to decide whether to hire an armed security guard for their unsecured government buildings like city halls, or just allow guns inside — a much cheaper option.

The Georgia Municipal Association, or GMA, recently posted a webinar designed to train workers in more than 500 cities. It was created by Rusi Patel, a GMA lawyer who was getting the same questions over and over again.

"The most frequent question that we've had: 'Can we just post signs?' And the answer to that is simply no," Patel says. "You can't just post signs to prohibit firearms in a government building."

Patel says if city officials don't know the law, they could be vulnerable to lawsuits — which might be brought by gun rights activists eager to test the limits of the law, says Steve Anthony, a political scientist at Georgia State University.

"There'll be a group of people who will actually be bird-dogging and going around and making sure that these different areas will be allowing what the law says they should be doing," Anthony says.

So in the coming months, the state's courts could be the ones clarifying what the law really means — where gun owners can and can't take their weapons, and what other state residents can and can't ask in response.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Come July 1, Georgians with gun permits will have many more places to take their weapons. That's when the Safe Carry Protection Act goes into effect. It's considered the most sweeping pro-gun measure passed in states this year. Opponents call it the Guns Everywhere Bill. But as Susan Capelouto reports, so far it's created confusion everywhere.

SUSAN CAPELOUTO, BYLINE: Georgia's new gun law has already been fodder for comedians like Stephen Colbert.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

STEPHEN COLBERT: With this law, Georgians be able to bring their guns to schools, bars, churches and libraries - of course, there, you will want to use a silencer.

CAPELOUTO: The law is not so funny for many Georgians who are trying to figure out what it means for them. For one, the laws says that licensed gun owners can carry their weapons into bars and churches, if the bar owner or Church Council allows them in. School personnel can have weapons if the school board approves. Then - and this is the really confusing part - the law says gun owners can carry a weapon into unsecured government buildings, such as libraries or city halls, without the approval.

ALISON WEISSINGER: We're going to start. How is everybody this morning?

CAPELOUTO: To figure out what that means, a group of 60 librarians from around Atlanta recently met with the director Alison Weissinger.

WEISSINGER: Joe Patron walks into the Rodin Trottier Library and has a gun on his hip. You, John, can't walk up to him and say, Mr. Patron, do you have a carry permit for that weapon? You can't do that.

CAPELOUTO: Weissinger is explaining how librarians won't be allowed to check to see if a gun owner has a permit. That creates more questions - like this one, from librarian Alanna Maddox.

ALANNA MADDOX: What if someone walks in with their gun and then they just put it on the desk beside their computer? Can we say anything? I mean, there are children running around. Are we not allowed to even say, hey, can you take the gun off the desk and put it on you?

WEISSINGER: That, I don't know.

JOHN MONROE: I mean, they're basically crying chicken little over something that's not that big a deal.

CAPELOUTO: That's John Monroe, a lawyer for Georgia Carry, the gun rights organization that backed the new law. He says gun permit holders should be treated like drivers, who can't be stopped by police who just want to check their driver's license without reason.

MONROE: Local authorities are blowing this detained for a license thing way out of proportion. It's already a violation of the Constitution to stop somebody just to see if they have a license.

CAPELOUTO: City employees will also have to decide whether to hire an armed security guard for an unsecured government building, like a city hall, or just allow guns inside - a much cheaper option.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUSI PATEL: GMA is proud to present part one of this webinar "Weapons In Georgia Cities".

CAPELOUTO: The GMA, or Georgia Municipal Association, recently posted this webinar to train workers in more than 500 cities. It was created by Rusi Patel, a GMA lawyer who was getting the same questions over and over again.

PATEL: Most frequent question that we've had, can we just post signs? And the answer to that is simply, no. You can't just post signs to prohibit firearms in a government building.

CAPELOUTO: Patel says if city officials don't know the law, they could be vulnerable to lawsuits. And those lawsuits could come from gun rights activists eager to test the limits of the law, says Steve Anthony. He's a political scientist at Georgia State Univeristy.

STEVE ANTHONY: There will be another group of full who will actually be bird-dogging and going around and making sure that these different areas will be doing what the law says they should be doing.

CAPELOUTO: Which means in the coming months, the courts could be the ones to clarify what the law really means and where gun owners can or can't take their weapons. For NPR News, I'm Susanna Capelouto in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.