Georgia law allows guns in restaurants, public transit

The Associated Press
ATLANTA | Permitted gun owners in Georgia will soon be allowed to carry concealed weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol, aboard public transportation and in parks under a new law observers called a significant expansion of gun rights.

Experts said the bill signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue on Wednesday could signal a resurgence of pro-gun legislation that had been dormant since last year’s Virginia Tech shootings. The National Rifle Association said in a statement that the law “represents the most comprehensive pro-gun reform measure to be enacted in nearly 20 years.”

In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill into law last month allowing Florida residents to keep guns locked in their cars at work. Earlier this month, a Louisiana House committee gave overwhelming approval to a bill allowing concealed handguns on the state’s college campuses.

Perdue signed the law without comment. At a recent news conference, he noted it would apply only to about 300,000 Georgia residents holding concealed weapons permits who have passed criminal background checks.

The Republican governor, who has enjoyed strong support from the NRA, had been under pressure from a diverse coalition of groups to veto the measure. The Georgia Restaurant Association, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Atlanta’s mass transit system and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin opposed it. Perdue expects the measure to face a legal challenge.

Alice Johnson, a lobbyist for Georgians for Gun Safety, said it is already too easy to obtain a concealed weapons permit. Unlike some states that require firearms training, Georgia simply requires a background check for felonies.

“We don’t have any way of knowing anything about these people who have permits except that they have $15 and passed a fingerprint check,” Johnson said.

The bill was one of the most contentious measures to face Georgia lawmakers this year and passed in the frenzied final hours of this year’s session., a Virginia-based gun rights group, said Georgia was one of only 13 states to ban guns in restaurants serving alcohol. [OCDO NOTE: before GA repealed their restaurant gun ban, only 11 states banned gun carry in restaurants totally; however, VA and MT still ban CONCEALED CARRY in restaurants serving alcohol, but allow open carry]

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Tim Bearden, a Republican from Villa Rica who is a former police officer, called measure “the biggest gun reform bill in Georgia history.”

He said critics of the bill were resorting to fear tactics.

Under the law that goes into effect July 1, restaurants can opt out if they post a sign saying they will not permit guns. The gun ban remains in place for bars or any restaurants making more than half their revenue from alcohol sales. Patrons packing a gun cannot drink alcohol.

Ron Wolf, chief executive officer of the Georgia Restaurant Association, called that unenforceable.

“I can’t imagine a restaurant owner is going to tell his staff to ask someone if they have a gun when they take a drink order,” Wolf said.

Violators are guilty of only a misdemeanor.

Janna Goodwin, a researcher at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said that in the aftermath of the slayings at Virginia Tech, most states either halted passage of gun laws or took up measures to improve gun safety.

“This is the most significant one I have seen,” she said.