In the next few days, Gov. Sonny Perdue will make a decision on whether or not to veto HB 89.
Called by supporters the “biggest gun reform in Georgia’s history,” HB 89 will allow guns to be carried in more public places, including public transportation, state parks, wildlife management areas (WMAs), historic sites and public buildings in those sites. It would also allow guns to be carried in business parking lots as well as restaurants that serve over 50 percent food. In order to carry a gun in these areas an individual must have a current Georgia firearms license (GFL) permit.
The bill also allows an individual to carry a gun in all areas of a vehicle with or without a GFL permit as long as they are a law-abiding citizen.
Originally introduced in 2007, the bill passed on the final day of the 2008 session by a vote of 106-57 in the House and 40-15 in the Senate. If vetoed by the governor, the Legislature would have to override his veto by a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber in order for the bill to become law.
As expected, the proposed law has generated more debate than any other legislation that passed this year. Last week, on the steps of City Hall, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Police Chief Richard Pennington, along with other community leaders in the Atlanta area, called on Gov. Perdue to veto the bill. Chief among their concerns was the impact on public transportation including MARTA trains and buses as well as the impact on tourism and restaurants.
In anticipation of the governor potentially signing the bill into law, MARTA bus drivers have a petition with over 1,000 signatures demanding bulletproof shields be installed in their buses. And because MARTA has a station inside the Atlanta airport, if the bill becomes law, critics say security at the airport could be compromised.
But perhaps the most controversial area that the bill covers, critics say, is that of restaurants that serve alcohol. Currently a law-abiding citizen with a GFL can go into any restaurant in the state that doesn’t sell alcohol. HB 89, if signed into law, would allow patrons to carry a firearm into those restaurants that serve alcohol, but they would not be allowed to drink. Because the restaurant must derive at least 50 percent of their revenues from food, bars would not be included.
Virginia’s governor vetoed a bill last month that would have allowed concealed handguns in restaurants, citing the safety of restaurant employees and customers. Other governors have used their veto power to stop similar bills fearing a potential negative impact on tourism.
However, proponents of HB 89 point out that 75 percent to 80 percent of all restaurants in Georgia don’t sell alcohol and firearms are currently allowed there, so why shouldn’t law-abiding Georgians with GFLs be allowed to go into restaurants that sell alcohol as long as they don’t drink. Besides, they argue, HB 89 would not allow carrying firearms into bars and if signed into law, Georgia would become the 38th state in the nation to decriminalize carrying firearms into restaurants that serve alcohol.
And as for the public transportation concerns, if HB 89 is signed into law, Georgia will become the 44th state in the nation to allow carrying weapons on public transportation. We’re not exactly breaking new ground here, supporters say.
And what about state parks, WMAs and historic sites? One can only wonder if the gruesome murder of the North Georgia hiker in Blairsville earlier this year might have turned out differently had HB 89 been in effect back then.
HB 89 is truly a chance for the 300,000 law-abiding Georgians who have undergone background checks and obtained GFLs to carry concealed handguns the ability to defend themselves and their families while in public.
While this is not the easiest of decisions and there will certainly be some accidents and horror stories if this bill becomes law, not giving law-abiding Georgians this right would certainly be hard to explain.