Tifton Gazette

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March 19, 2014

Revamped 'gun bill' approved by Senate

TIFTON — The state Senate approved legislation Tuesday that would allow people who have a license to carry a weapon to take their guns into bars and churches, as long as the congregations allow it.

The Senate has revamped the House version of the legislation, which would have removed the ban on guns in churches unless church leaders decided to ban firearms on specific properties. The new verbiage allows church leaders give their members the option to bring guns onto church property. The Senate version of the bill adds a $100 fine to be imposed on those who bring guns into churches without permission.

The legislation also allows school districts to arm their employees, in an attempt to deter attacks on school property.

Tift County School Superintendent Patrick Atwater says the local board has been dealing with the actual bills that pertain to what school administrators and staff are all about – teaching children – that they haven't spent any real time studying the gun bill.

"My understanding of (the bill) is that the local school board would approve trained staff at their discretion to be allowed to carry guns at a school. As a superintendent, I see no reason we would need armed employees other than the deputies we already have on our campuses," he said. "Our board has not addressed this. I don't see it anywhere in the future of our discussions."

Atwater added that the school system has a close relationship with local law enforcement, including the Tift County Sheriff's Office, Georgia State Patrol, and the Tifton and Omega police departments.

"We have four campuses that have deputies all day, every day, and deputies from the sheriff's office visit our campuses each day. We are well covered by our local law enforcement," he said. "I could not imagine a better relationship with local law enforcement."

The legislation also would allow people with a license to carry guns into some government buildings if they are not protected by security guards, as well as non-restricted areas of airports.

The bill, as handed down by the House, lets convicted felons claim "stand your ground" status – which means felons would be allowed to claim self defense when accused of using deadly force.

House and Senate officials are expected to reach a compromise today.

To contact editor Angye Morrison, call 382-4321.

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