By Tom Baxter
Morris News Service
ATLANTA – Coweta County Solicitor Robert Stokely had a friendly warning Monday for the committee considering a bill that changes the rules about where Georgians can carry guns: those rules better be crystal clear.
Determining whether a location qualifies as a public place under the current law can be like "wrestling with a shower curtain – even when you get your arms around it, it doesn't feel good," the local prosecutor told members of the Senate Special Judiciary Committee in a hearing on Senate Bill 308 by Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, a Republican who represents Coweta County.
If the law is going to be changed so that individual bars, churches or other businesses can decide if they want guns allowed on their property, Stokely said, property owners should be required to "publicly disclose it in some identifiable way," such as an online database. Otherwise, the law could get "really murky and hard to enforce."
Stokely was one of several witnesses to speak at the hearing on the bill. Keith Hatcher of the Georgia Association of Realtors expressed concerns – in line with Stokely's – that the bill presented "the real possibility of increased liability on the part of our property owners."
Bill Miller of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority said he was hearing concerns from exhibitors who want to be sure they can ban guns from their events.
And Tom Daniel, senior vice chancellor of the Georgia University System, said his survey of college and university leaders showed broad opposition.
"The bottom line is that they prefer the current law," Daniel said.
But Edward Wint, pastor of the Covenant Life Worship Center in Chickamauga, said he had come to the hearing to explain "why a pastor might want something like this."
It was an unusually candid discussion of the pressure on churches in a time of economic desperation.
With the worsening economy, Wint said, he has seen "more and more people coming to our church and asking us to help them." The unemployed are getting more desperate at the same time church donations are down, he said. He has had to escort some people from the church grounds, he said, and some have become "angry and violent."
The church carries on an outreach program for battered women, Wint said, and he worries about someone coming into his church with a grudge and a weapon.
"The way things are in our society, we have a lot of targets on our backs as a church, whether it be religious zealots, whether it be extreme Muslim terrorists, whether it be disgruntled spouses, these are issues we have to deal with," Wint said.
He said that if the law were passed he would post signs not allowing guns in the congregation, but would assign church members to carry guns as security. This led to a discussion of whether property owners could be selective as to who gets to carry a gun.
But Seabaugh said after the hearing it was his intention for property owners to have such a choice over who can, and who can't, carry a gun.