Opinions split on gun law

Heyward Johnson has envisioned the scene.

 

A licensed gun owner fires one bullet at a gunman on a crowded city bus, leading to chaos and a number of wounded people.

"Once they start to shooting, who's to say who will get shot?" said the Augusta Public Transit director. "You could shoot the perpetrator but hurt everybody else. The bus driver could swerve and hit somebody."

Mr. Johnson was reacting to legislation signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue on Wednesday. The law allows licensed gun owners to carry their guns in more public places. Others say the legislation will restore the Second Amendment rights of Georgians licensed to carry concealed weapons.

House Bill 89, which will take effect July 1, will allow those with firearm licenses to bring their guns into restaurants that serve alcohol, onto public transportation and into state parks, said Rep. Tim Bearden, author of the bill.

"There are 37 other states that allow law-abiding citizens to carry their guns into restaurants," Mr. Bearden said. "Forty-three other states allow them to carry it on public transportation. We're just trying to bring Georgia up to par."

Those with concealed-carry permits could already bring their guns into restaurants that do not serve alcohol, Mr. Bearden said. The new legislation makes it illegal for gun-toting restaurant patrons to consume alcohol.

Sae Shin, co-owner of 1102 Bar & Grill, said the no-alcohol provision will be hard to implement.

"That's a nice idea, but if it's not exposed we have no way of knowing," he said.

Tonya Watkins of Locust Grove, Ga., agreed. She said she would feel unsafe where gun owners, licensed or not, were present.

Without knowing if a restaurant patron is licensed or not, a bar argument could pose a violent situation, said Ms. Watkins, who was eating at 1102 Bar & Grill on Friday.

"If people are drinking and they get in an argument, are you going to use a bottle or a gun?" she said.

George Harrison, owner of Boll Weevil Cafe, said licensed gun owners would not bring guns into his restaurant with "bad intent," so he is not concerned about the legislation. He's more concerned about gun-toters who are not licensed, he said.

"People who don't have permits don't care about the laws, but I think the licensed gun owners are just trying to protect themselves," Mr. Harrison said.

Licensed gun owners will likely follow the no-alcohol provision, considering that the punishment for violating the law could include prison time, said Ed Stone, president of GeorgiaCarry.org, a gun-rights organization.

"I like to take my 7-year-old son hiking," Mr. Stone said. "I'm frequently at least seven miles away from law enforcement. If the government can't protect me and my son, I want to be able to protect myself."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

FACTS ON FIREARMS

- Violent crime rates since 2003 have been lower than anytime since the mid-1970s. Since 1991, 23 states have adopted right-to-carry laws; the number of privately owned guns has risen by nearly 70 million; and violent crime is down 38 percent.

- In 2006, the most recent year for which complete data are available, right-to-carry states had lower violent crime rates, on average, compared with the rest of the country.

- In 2004, 29,569 people in the United States died in firearm-related incidents -- 11,624 were murdered; 16,750 were suicides; 649 were accidents; and in 235 cases the intent was unknown.

Sources: National Rifle Association, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

HOUSE BILL 89

- Allows licensed carry permit holders to possess a firearm in any private motor vehicle, while on any publicly accessible parking lot

- Allows concealed carry permit holders to carry in state parks, recreational areas, wildlife management areas and on public transportation

- Limits the time for various stages of the concealed carry license application process

- Allows concealed carry permit holders to carry in restaurants that serve alcohol but prohibits them from consuming alcohol