All of the county’s state representatives are supportive of the Safe Carry Protection Act, which the House is expected to take up this week and would allow school boards and privately owned places to make their own decision on firearms.
State Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), the fourth signer on the bill, calls it an expansion of Second Amendment rights.
“It basically empowers the private property owners to make that decision, rather than the state saying, ‘You own a bar; nobody can carry guns in your bar.’ We let you make that decision as a private property owner, rather than be dictated by the state,” she said.
The current version of the bill would allow local boards of education to authorize personnel to carry weapons within school safety zones under certain circumstances. Churches, bars, restaurants and other private places could make their own call on guns and, like schools, would not have to allow them.
An earlier version of the same bill passed the House in 2013, when Ballinger was also a signer, but it fell short of becoming law in the Senate. She’s hopeful for better results this year.
“I think there’s been broad support for the bill throughout the House,” she said. “We’ve been getting more positive indications this year (from the Senate). I am hopeful they will try to move forward.”
Newly elected state Rep. Sam Moore (R-Macedonia) said he couldn’t say how he’d vote on the measure until the final version was ready, but generally he likes the intent.
“I believe in campus carry and church carry,” Moore said. “I just believe that law-abiding adults should have the right to defend themselves wherever they’re at. It’s certainly a bill that moves us in that direction.”
Moore said his support was because the measure aims to let property owners make their own decision and doesn’t require them to let guns in.
“I would be opposed to any bill that would require a firearm anywhere,” he said. “Your Second Amendment right is a right to have a firearm if you so choose.”
State Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) also said it’s about rights.
“This bill removes several existing state restrictions regarding where law-abiding citizens can carry and also respects private property rights,” he said.
Carson’s fellow Cherokee representative, Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock), also feels the act preserves Second Amendment rights.
“My oath of office requires that I do all in my power to uphold the Constitutions of the United States and the state of Georgia,” he said. “By allowing licensed Georgians further access to firearms and expanding their ability to carry, we are better protecting these guaranteed rights.”
While the focus is guaranteeing gun rights, Ballinger said the bill also hopes to help keep firearms out of the hands of those who might not need to have them, such as those who’ve been adjudicated mentally incompetent to stand trial or anyone who’s been adjudicated not guilty by reason of insanity.
Anyone who has been hospitalized as an inpatient at a mental hospital or alcohol or drug treatment center within five years of applying for a permit could also be denied, according to the bill.
Ballinger said some have taken issue to the references to mental health in the act, but in general not much is really changing when it comes to the mentally ill’s access to firearms.
“We’re just trying to increase compliance,” she said. “Basically, what we’re trying to do is increase record-keeping and reporting.”
State Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) said this year’s version of the bill has struck a good “balance between public safety, property rights and the individual right to bear arms” and he is supportive.
Turner, like Carson, Caldwell, Ballinger and Moore’s predecessor Calvin Hill (R-Canton), also voted for the bill in 2013.