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Georgia Bill Loosens Restrictions On Guns In Public Places

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Allowing guns into government buildings that have no security is part of a bill waiting the governor's approval. Municipalities worry their budgets will grow as they forced to hire security.


Since the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, more than 70 measures have gone into effect around the U.S. actually loosening restrictions on guns. And tomorrow the governor of Georgia is expected to sign a bill that will allow gung to be carried in more places. Among those against the gun bill are cities in Georgia concerned about having to spend more on security. Susanna Capelouto has this report.

SUSANNA CAPELOUTO, BYLINE: Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group founded by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, put out this ad.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Georgia lawmakers have an idea and it's not a good one. In fact, it's the most extreme gun bill in America...

CAPELOUTO: The target here is a bill passed by state lawmakers last month that increases the number of places gun permit holders can go with their weapons.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They want guns everywhere...

CAPELOUTO: But what finally passed fell a little short of what gun rights supporters were hoping for.

JERRY HENRY: Nowhere near everywhere. We wish it was everywhere, but it's not.

CAPELOUTO: Jerry Henry is with the group Georgia Carry, whose members worked to pass the bill. They lost on a proposal to allow guns onto college campuses. They compromised on carrying guns into churches and bars with what's known as an opt in provision, where a church or bar can decide to allow guns in. But one area where Henry's group can claim total victory is the right to carry weapons into unsecured government buildings.

HENRY: I want the right to defend myself no matter where I am, and right now when i go to a government building I have to go in undefended.

CAPELOUTO: That leaves counties and cities with only two options: either hire security to man the entrances at their government buildings or allow guns inside.

BETH ENGLISH: Do you take the chance and hope that everybody that comes inside any our buildings in our communities are going to be responsible people? I can't say that a hundred percent.

CAPELOUTO: Beth English is a city councilwoman in the South Georgia town of Vienna, population 4,000, and home of the official Georgia cotton museum. English thinks it would cost Vienna at least $60,000 to hire security for City Hall, and the city owned rec and community centers. The mayor of Vienna, Eddie Daniels, just returned from a mayors' conference where he says the gun bill and its cost were a hot topic.

MAYOR EDDIE DANIELS: It's going to increase all the budgets to be able to put these measures into place. You know, we have enough of our shoulder now that we're trying to maintain.

CAPELOUTO: The Georgia municipal association which represents over 500 cities has sent a letter to Governor Nathan Deal asking him to veto of the bill, but Deal has a 100 percent rating from the National Rifle Association, is running for re-election, and has signaled his support of gun rights. For Beth English this is not an issue of gun rights, but one of local control.

ENGLISH: I have a gun. I have a permit. I am totally not against having guns, but I am against being told as a city government we cannot establish that our city hall and our public buildings are going to be gun free spaces.

CAPELOUTO: Giving local governments the option to make their own gun laws is strongly opposed by the NRA and members of Georgia Carry. The groups Jerry Henry says they're lobbying for laws that strengthen state preemption.

HENRY: What state preemption says is that the only ones who can make any laws to control firearms is the General Assembly. And can you imagine how difficult it would be with 159 counties in this state and all of them being able to decide what they want to do? I mean, nobody would know where to go.

CAPELOUTO: Vienna city councilwoman English and Mayor Daniels want lawmakers to adjust the bill next year. That's when Georgia's legislature meets again. For NPR News, I'm Susanna Capelouto in Atlanta.


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