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Bill signing expands gun rights in Georgia

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Georgia gun-rights supporters say they are pleased with the signing of House Bill 89, one of the largest expansions of gun rights in the state's recent history.

Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the legislation Wednesday that will allow guns in restaurants, on public transportation, and in some parks.

"We're very happy that the bill was signed," said State Rep. Tim Bearden (R-Villa Rica). "We made a monumental step on Wednesday by getting this signed into law."

Bearden sponsored the gun bill, which goes into effect July 1 and will allow roughly 300,000 Georgians, who have concealed weapons permits, to carry a gun into restaurants, public transportation and state parks. Those permit holders have passed criminal background checks.

"When it goes into effect, law-abiding citizens will have more areas to defend themselves in public," said Bearden, who was in law enforcement for 15 years before becoming a state representative.

The gun bill passed late on April 4, after two years of political wrangling.

In previous reports, the head of the Georgia Restaurant Association, Ron Wolf, stated his biggest concern was the possibility of more violence.

The bill will allow guns only in restaurants that serve mostly food, and bans patrons from consuming alcohol if they are carrying a gun [patrons who, otherwise, would be guilty of a misdemeanor].

Wolf added, however, that he believed the measure would be nearly impossible to enforce and regulate.

Several other groups and individuals - including MARTA, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin - had urged Perdue to veto the bill, saying the measure could lead to increased violence. The bill was backed by the National Rifle Association and several other gun-rights advocates.

State Rep. John Lunsford (R-McDonough) was an advocate of the bill's passage.

"I am a firm believer in second amendment rights," said Lunsford, who also owns a gun permit.

Lunsford said he carries a gun for self-protection and the protection of his family.

"It [could be] one of those situations, where you don't get a chance to do it again," he said. "The whole key is it only pertains to law-abiding citizens, [and] we trust that our citizens are law-abiding ..."

The gun law, however, has some limits. It does not apply to sites that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers overseas within the state, including: Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in Marietta, national parks along the Chattahoochee River, and parks and boat ramps owned by the Corps of Engineers surrounding Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, and Lake Hartwell.

The Corps issued a brief statement Thursday because of confusion about where the law applies. The statement clarifies that the only loaded guns allowed in the Corps campgrounds and recreation areas in Georgia are carried by law enforcement officers.

"There are other things that we'd like to see [in expanding the state's gun rights]," said Rep. Bearden, a member of the National Rifle Association and the gun-rights group GeorgiaCarry.org.

Georgia now becomes the 38th state to have such legislation signed into law.

"Once again, this is nothing new going on," Bearden said. "It affects law-abiding citizens and licensed gun carriers."

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On the net:

H.B. 89: www.legis.ga.gov

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-- The Associated Press contributed to this article.