Oconee County’s two members of the Georgia House of Representatives voted with the Republican majority on Tuesday to pass an omnibus gun bill that would allow, among other things, licensed holders of guns to enter county government buildings that do not have security restrictions in place.
The bill is wide ranging, dealing with the rights of persons to carry guns in a variety of settings.
The Association County Commissioners of Georgia is opposing provisions of the bill, including those dealing with access to government buildings and others that would prevent law enforcement officials from detaining a person with a weapon to determine if that person has a license to carry the weapon.
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The bill allows any individual or organization, whether aggrieved or not, to sue a county alleging that the county is regulating or attempting to regular weapons and places the burden of bringing, trying and defending the lawsuit on county taxpayers. ACCG wants this provision changed.
The bill, now before the Senate, also would reduce to a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $100 the carrying of a weapon onto the Oconee County campus of University of North Georgia near Butler’s Crossing as well as onto other campuses around the state.
Quick And Williams Votes
State Rep. Regina Quick, who represents the Oconee County precincts of Athens Academy, Malcom Bridge and Bogart, as well as Rep. Chuck Williams, who represents the remainder of Oconee County, were joined by 117 others in passing the bill.
Oconee County is a minority in the 117th House District, which also includes parts of Clarke, Barrow and Jackson counties.
The 119th is made up of Oconee and Clarke counties, and Oconee County is the minority–by a small amount–in that district as well. The bulk of University of Georgia campus is in the 119th district.
Both Quick and Williams are Republicans.
Spencer Frye, a Democrat, represents the 118th District, which falls entirely in Clarke County. He voted against the gun bill on Tuesday and was joined by 55 other opponents.
Implications For Oconee County
Oconee County currently has screening equipment at the courthouse, but not at the Government Annex on SR 15, at the Courthouse Annex, across the street from the courthouse, at the office of the Board of Elections, next door to the courthouse, or at other offices around the county.
Oconee County would have to add security screening to those buildings or expose itself “to greater liability” which “may increase insurance premiums” with the additional cost being passed on to the taxpayer, the ACCG has written in its analysis of the bill, officially House Bill 875 and named the Safe Carry Protection Act.
“Providing security in all county government buildings is a costly expense that would have to be shouldered by the taxpayers of the county for the benefit of a few,” ACCG wrote.
ACCG recommends that “The decision to allow weapons in county buildings, and which ones, should be made by county commissioners–those elected by and accountable to their respective communities.”
Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis is past president of and active in ACCG. He held the presidency in 2011.
Replay Of 2013
The House passed a revision of the state’s regulations of guns in the 2013 session by a vote of 117 to 56.
Quick and Williams also voted with the majority last year, and Frye voted with the minority.
That bill died in the Senate.
ACCG is asking the Senate to rewrite the 2014 legislation on access to county buildings to allow for local control, to remove the provision of the bill prohibiting law enforcement from detaining persons with guns to make sure they have permits, to change the law so that only those aggrieved can bring suit, and to allow the counties to recover their litigation and attorney expenses.
Oconee County is represented in the Senate by Bill Cowsert, an Athens attorney.
At present, Georgia law makes it a crime to carry guns on campuses, including the branch campus of the University of North Georgia on Bishop Farms Parkway.
Hank Huckaby, chancellor of the University System of Georgia, last year spoke out strongly against the bill passed by the House with the support of Quick and Williams.
That bill would have allowed guns on campuses.
Huckaby is an Oconee County resident and represented Oconee County in the Georgia House of Representatives before becoming chancellor.
He was succeeded by Williams in a special election held to seat his replacement.
Other Provisions Of 2014 Bill
The bill passed by the House on Tuesday lifts the state’s bans for persons with a carry permit on carrying weapons into bars, churches and public housing projects.
Under the law, Boards of Education, including in Oconee County, could authorize school personnel to carry weapons at schools.
The law says that a person who attempts to enter a secure area of an airport is only guilty of a misdemeanor.
If that person has a permit, tells the security agent she or he has a gun and “immediately leaves the restricted access area” after admitting to having a gun, the person will not be charged with the misdemeanor.
The law does not create a database including information from jurisdictions around the state on who holds a carry permit, the ACCG notes, making enforcement of any restrictions difficult.
Vote By Party
The House has 119 Republicans, 1 independent and 60 Democrats.
The bill passed with 115 votes from House Republicans and three from House Democrats. Three House Republicans joined 53 House Democrats in voting against the bill.
E. Culver Kidd of Milledgeville, the independent, voted for the bill.
Four Democrats and Republican House Speaker David Ralston did not vote.