ELLIJAY, Ga. (WXIA) -- There are now more places you can carry your gun across the state.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed legislation Wednesday afternoon expanding where people with licenses can bring their guns.
A few hundred gun rights advocates gathered to watch the bill signing at an event in Ellijay, with top officials including House Speaker David Ralston and bill sponsor Rep. Rick Jasperse. Many of those in attendance were wearing pistols on their hips.
The bill also drew some in-state opposition. People will be able to carry firearms in government buildings that don't have metal detectors, such as city halls, libraries, recreational centers, city office buildings and fire stations. The Georgia Municipal Association, which represents the state's 538 cities, asked Deal to veto it. "Local elected officials are responsible for securing and maintaining public safety, and insurance coverage, in buildings owned and operated by the city. Therefore, they should have the authority to make a decision about whether to allow weapons in such buildings," GMA said in a letter to Deal.
The bill makes several changes to state law. It allows those with a license to carry to bring a gun into a bar without restriction and into some government buildings that don't have certain security measures. It also allows religious leaders to decide whether it's OK for a person with a carry license to bring a gun into their place of worship.
And school districts would now be able, if they want, to allow some employees to carry a firearm under certain conditions.
One place the bill does not allow guns is the Georgia state Capital. When asked about that restriction, Deal noted that the Capital has metal detectors and "that is a carved-out area all across our state."
Deal noted that county courthouses can also choose to exclude guns.
The new law removes a restriction that prevented those convicted of certain misdemeanors from getting a gun permit. And in a provision that has some law enforcement officials concerned, police will not be able to detain a person "for the sole purpose of investigating whether such a person has a weapons carry license."
Called the "Most Comprehensive Pro-Gun Bill in State History" by the National Rifle Association (NRA), House Bill 60 goes into effect July 1, 2014.
"For decades now I have staunchly defended our Second Amendment rights as both a legislator and as governor," said Deal. "This legislation will protect the constitutional rights of Georgians who have gone through a background check to legally obtain a Georgia Weapons Carry License. Roughly 500,000 Georgia citizens have a permit of this kind, which is approximately 5 percent of our population. License holders have passed background checks and are in good standing with the law. This law gives added protections to those who have played by the rules – and who can protect themselves and others from those who don't play by the rules. Our nation's founders put the right to bear arms on par with freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Georgians cherish their Second Amendment rights, and this law embodies those values."
As Deal signed the bill in Ellijay, a community of 1,600 about 65 miles north of Atlanta, the Georgia Gun Sense Coalition had an event in downtown Atlanta that included a moment of silence for all gun victims. In 2011, the most recent available, gunfire killed 1,175 people in Georgia, including 443 who were murdered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The gun bill had failed in three previous legislative sessions but passed late on the night of March 20, the session's final day this year.
A year ago this month, a man in Suwanee, Ga., faked a heart attack and took five Gwinnett County firefighters hostage at gunpoint in his house, knowing that the emergency responders would not be armed. Though the incident ended well for the firefighters — a SWAT team rescued them four hours later but killed the gunman — some Georgia legislators believe that this incident provided the impetus for the legislation to pass.
Contributing Larry Copeland, USA Today