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Ga. lifts limits on guns in public

| Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 8:36 p.m.

ELLIJAY, Ga. — Georgia took a big step on Wednesday toward expanding where licensed carriers can take their weapons as the governor signed a law that allows guns in bars without restrictions and in some churches, schools and government buildings under certain circumstances.

Because of mass shootings in recent years, some states have pursued stronger limits on guns, but others, like Georgia, have taken the opposite path, as advocates argue that people should be allowed to carry weapons as an issue of public safety. Republicans control large majorities in the Georgia General Assembly. But the bill — criticized by one group as the “guns everywhere” bill — passed overwhelming despite objections from some religious leaders and local government officials.

A few hundred gun-rights supporters gathered at an outdoor pavilion along a river in the town of Ellijay for the bill-signing by Gov. Nathan Deal and for a barbecue. House Speaker David Ralston offered a thinly veiled critique of those who might oppose the law as he described the people of his district.

“This is the apple capital of Georgia. And, yes, it's a community where we cling to our religion and our guns,” Ralston said, drawing big applause in referencing a comment made by President Obama in his 2008 presidential bid regarding Pennsylvanians.

The law, which will take effect on July 1, revises a state law. In addition to allowing guns in bars without restrictions, the weapons could be brought into some government buildings that don't have certain security measures, such as metal detectors or security guards screening visitors. Religious leaders would have the final say as to whether guns can be carried into their place of worship.

If they choose, school districts could allow some employees to carry a firearm on school grounds under certain conditions.

“This bill is about the good guys — you guys,” bill sponsor Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, told the crowd. “Amid all the misinformation and emotions, one must remember that this bill isn't about irresponsibly arming the masses. This is a bill about safety and responsibility.”

Opponents, however, include Americans for Responsible Solutions, co-founded by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz. Giffords survived a shooting in 2011 and started a nationwide campaign on gun control. Pia Carusone, executive director of the group, said on its website that “the bill is extremism in action; it moves Georgia out of the mainstream.”

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