A sweeping gun bill approved by the Georgia Senate late Tuesday has some controversial features: allowing guns in churches and permitting school districts to designate an employee who can carry a gun while decriminalizing guns on college campuses.
The bill, as changed, would allow guns in churches but make the provision an “opt in” — meaning church leaders don’t have to act unless they want to allow guns in churches. Original wording by the House would have lifted the state’s ban of guns in churches unilaterally unless leaders vote to prohibit them on individual church properties, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
According to language added by the Senate, someone caught with a gun in a church that didn’t allow it would face a misdemeanor charged and a $100 fine.
The Georgia House voted 119-56 to approve the bill.
State Rep. Rick Jasperse, the man behind the measure, told WGCL TV his bill would let law-abiding gun owners defend themselves if a criminal opens fire inside a sacred space before police have a chance to respond.
"It gives you the opportunity to take into your own hands," Jasperse said. "It opens up where they can defend themselves, when they choose to."
The Rev. Gary Charles, pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta, said the bill would make houses of worship more dangerous.
"When people come into houses of worship, they come into sanctuaries," Charles said. "They don't need to come into a place where people are fearing they are carrying loaded weapons."
Charles said lawmakers should focus on what he believes are more important issues: good jobs, schools and medical care.
The bill now heads back to the House, which can agree or disagree to it before the session ends Thursday.