Columbia County residents might see licensed weapons carriers with their firearms in church and other places they wouldn’t normally.
The Georgia Safe Carry Protection Act, which went into effect Tuesday, expands where licensed gun carriers can take their weapons.
“I’ve got mixed emotions,” county commission Chairman Ron Cross said of the bill. “In a perfect world, I’m happy for everybody that can pass the background check to have a gun. But on the other hand, I know, even with this, and if you had full gun controls like (President) Obama wants to do, you’re still going to have bad guys with guns. You’ve got to have something to offset that.”
The new law allows firearms owners with a Georgia Weapons Carry License to take their guns into bars, churches and unrestricted government buildings.
The expansion of the law applies only to WCL – formerly known as a concealed weapons permit – holders. Georgia is not an open carry state. So those without a WCL are allowed to carry firearms, concealed or not, in their home and on their property, in their vehicle and at their place of business. Without a license, a gun owner cannot carry the weapon in public places other than their business.
County law enforcement officials said there have been no instances out of the normal because of the new law.
“Basically, we’ve just been educating the public,” Harlem police Chief Gary Jones said. “We don’t have to worry about bars. The churches will have to make their own decisions about whether they are going to allow carry.”
Guns are allowed in bars unless the business owner or operator posts signs otherwise. For places of worship, the assumption is still that guns aren’t allowed, but lawmakers gave religious leaders the freedom to allow guns in their churches.
“We very well may get some calls on that,” Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said.
Cross, a licensed gun owner, said he doesn’t have a problem with the expansion of the weapons- carry law, but understands if church leaders opt not to allow firearms.
“Where in the world would you want to protect people more than at church,” Cross said. “That’s where all the good guys are. The bad guys aren’t going to be in church.”
The expansion of the law also allows school system leaders to decide to allow employees to carry firearms on school grounds and at school functions.
Superintendent Dr. Sandra Carraway said the Columbia County school system leaders will not exercise that option. Licensed gun carriers can now take their weapons into some government buildings.
“They can carry in government buildings that are open for business and not restricted or screened by security personnel,” Morris said.
The Columbia County Justice Center and Court-house Annex in Evans is manned by security personnel screening guests at the door. If a licensed carrier tries to bring in a weapon, he will be a given the option to store the gun or retreat to his vehicle or other location to get rid of the gun before entering the courthouse. The same goes for the Harlem Police Department and Harlem Municipal Court. Any unlicensed carrier will be detained and charged immediately.
But buildings in the Evans Government Complex to include commission meetings and the Harlem City Hall will be open for licensed carriers and their weapons.
“City Hall, under the new law, will permit carry, in lieu of posting a security checkpoint during business hours,” Jones said.
Jones said in lieu of posting a security checkpoint at City Hall, the police department will closely monitor City Hall during business hours as a safety precaution for city employees.