The Georgia House of Representatives and Senate recently approved House Bill 89 aimed at expanding the allowed areas that gun owners can carry their weapons – including parks and restaurants that serve alcohol.
Last week, the Richmond Hill mayor and council signed a proclamation urging Governor Sonny Perdue to veto HB89.
RHPD Chief Billy Reynolds said it was at his urging that the city took this action. Bryan County Sheriff Clyde Smith and Pembroke Police Chief Bill Collins said they also are against HB89.
"I just don’t understand the reasoning behind it," Mayor Richard Davis said. "I believe in someone having the right to carry a gun, but not in parks where children are playing or restaurants where alcohol is served. Guns and alcohol are a dangerous combination. It opens the door for someone to hurt someone with a gun on instinct."
Reynolds commented on the large number of calls the department currently answers regarding incidents at local bars.
"Add a gun to the mix, and that could just escalate a situation," Reynolds said. "I don’t know of any law enforcement officer or bar owner that is for this bill."
Reynolds said it will also add to the responsibilities of patrol officers who will have to check to see if someone is licensed in parks or restaurants. Currently, police already know that any gun present in these areas is prohibited.
Reynolds said he has been following House Bill 89 since it was first introduced and the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police is urging members to contact legislators in opposition of the bill.
"The house bill itself is not thought out very well," PPD Chief Collins said. "It puts police officers more at risk by increasing the chances of a confrontation with people carrying weapons. It’s difficult enough now. To broaden it makes no sense to me."
Georgia Senator Eric Johnson said the details of this bill are actually very common among other states, and this bill was designed to clean up much of the legislative confusion surrounding Georgia’s carry laws.
"It’s not like we’re on the cutting edge of the Wild West here," Johnson said. "Georgia is the 38th state to adopt legislation such as this. I see where law enforcement is opposing this bill, but criminals aren’t going to obey the law anyway. This bill paves the way for citizens to better protect themselves."
Johnson said there are numerous contradictions in the current laws such as being able to carry a gun in your glove box, yet you would be committing a misdemeanor when driving by a school.
"This bill started out as a bill that would allow you to hide a weapon in your car anywhere you wanted," Johnson said. "The current law states it has to be out of reach or in the glove box which creates a few conflicts. For example, many glove boxes are too small and so many cars have consoles now. The final version of the bill reflects looking around the country at other states’ carry laws."
Johnson said increased likelihood of a confrontation with an armed criminal is the worst case scenario, but "the most likely scenario is citizen being robbed and being able to better protect themselves. Let’s not forget that a license must still be obtained which requires a background check and approval from a probate judge."
As for the park issue, Johnson said this was brought to the table stemming from a recent incident in an Atlanta park where a woman was attacked and killed by an armed assailant.
"I would think that the park stipulation would be the least controversial," he said.
Johnson said this bill simply allows citizens to carry concealed weapons "within reasonable common sense", noting that it will still be banned at public buildings such as courthouses, city halls, civic centers and churches.