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Deadline for state gun bill looming

COVINGTON - With a May 4 deadline looming for Gov. Sonny Perdue to sign House Bill 89, which would allow guns in more public places, State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, said he's worried pressure from opponents will result in a veto.

The measure would allow the roughly 300,000 Georgians with concealed weapons permits to bring firearms into public places, such as restaurants, public transportation, parks, historic sites and wildlife management areas.

It would also allow employees to leave weapons in their car at work with permission of their employer.

A provision allowing guns in churches and public gatherings was stripped in the final version that won passage in the House by a margin of 106-57 and in the Senate by 40-15.

Douglas added the amendment to include restaurants and mass transit in the bill.

"The General Assembly can legislate all day long, but there is nothing we can do to force criminals to obey the law," Douglas said. "There is much we can do to force law abiding citizens to obey the law simply because they will. While honest Georgians will do as we say, criminals will continue on their way ignoring our laws. The result: criminals will continue to use guns for violence while hard working, honest citizens will find themselves unprotected."

Groups such as the Georgia Restaurant Association and the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association have come out in opposition of the bill.

"I am concerned the governor is under a lot of pressure to veto it," Douglas said.

But Douglas insists an expanded right-to-carry law is needed because, "There are too may examples where a mass murder was committed and nobody had weapons to defend themselves."

Douglas cited an incident at Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, on Oct. 16, 1991, when a deranged man drove his truck into a plate glass window, got out and began shooting diners.

"In the crowd was a member of the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team who had weapons in her car, but under Texas law, could not bring them into the establishment. She saw both of her parents and 22 others killed that day while she could not get to her guns," he said.

"The story of Virginia Tech is well known. Many dead students and faculty members who had no access to protection while the police did their best to get to the scene," he added. "Compare that to Appalachian State University on Jan. 16, 2002, where two students were able to get to their cars and their guns, returned, captured the gunman and held him for police. Three people died there compared to more than two dozen at Virginia Tech."

Douglas said there is a strenuous background check required to obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon, and he believes law-abiding citizens should have a right to defend themselves.

"I'm confident expanding concealed weapons rights will not result in more crime," he said.

The bill only allow guns in restaurants that serve mostly food and bans patrons from consuming alcohol if they are carrying a gun.

But Ron Wolf, head of the Georgia Restaurant Association, said that's nearly impossible to enforce.

"Are waiters now going to have to ask everyone who orders a drink if they're armed?" he asked. "Our position is simple. We think it's inappropriate."

The legislation also allows restaurants to ban guns, but they must post a sign outlining their policy. Those that do would risk alienating potential customers, said Ron Fennel, director of governmental affairs for the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association.

"We think it's worthy of a veto," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.