1 Jul 2014

‘Guns in bars’ law comes into force in Georgia

From Tuesday, Georgian gun owners can take their firearms into public places including bars. But in a country where more children die from gun deaths than cancer, the new law is proving controversial.

Having a shot in a bar might take on a whole new meaning on Wednesday, after a change to gun laws come into effect in the American state of Georgia, writes Washington intern Anja Popp.

The Safe Carry Protection Act, commonly referred to as the “guns everywhere” bill, means Georgians with a license can now carry firearms into bars, libraries, schools, churches, government buildings and unsecured areas of airports.

For a country where it is estimated gun fatalities amounted to almost 33,000 last year, many are shocked that some laws are going in favour of more relaxed gun control.

The answer to America’s gun violence isn’t to encourage masses of people to carry guns Reverend Raphael Warnock

Reverend Raphael Warnock from Ebenezer Baptist Church in Georgia is one of them. “When I say pass the peace, I don’t mean pass the piece”. He also points out that Georgia’s gun laws were already very loose: “the answer to America’s gun violence isn’t to encourage masses of people to carry guns”.

The bill, which was passed in March, was altered so both schools and churches have to opt-in rather than out of the law. The onus on keeping guns out of bars however, is left to individual bar owners to state “no guns” or to remove those carrying a weapon.

Under the new law, local governments cannot block guns from unrestricted areas of airports or government buildings, including libraries.

Many will be familiar with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport for passenger traffic. As it is in Georgia, from today guns are permitted in areas that aren’t behind security checkpoints. This, some fear, could lead to people testing the system to try and smuggle guns through security.

Gun laws and homicides: the stats

In America, 60 per cent of homicides occur using a firearm; the 26th-highest rate in the world. It is estimated that there are 89 guns in America to every 100 residents.

Since Sandy Hook, where 20 children and six adults were shot dead by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, there has been a change in gun laws in many states. But not always in favour of those calling for tighter gun control. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 64 gun laws have strengthened state gun regulations, but an alarming 70 changes have weakened laws meant to protect citizens.

Statistics show that America’s gun problems are affecting 15-24 year olds the most. If current trends continue, gun deaths will surpass car accident fatalities among young people in 2015. It already kills more children than cancer.

Just over a month ago, Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 13 others near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Channel 4 News spoke with the father of Chris Martinez, one of Rodger’s victims, who blamed pro-gun lobbyists and “spineless” politicians for their lack of action in gun reform.

Those supporting the new gun law in Georgia argue that by allowing guns in more places, more innocent people will be protected.

Others disagree. Reverend Warnock says this view of more good people with guns to stop bad people with guns is over-simplified: “Sometimes life’s circumstances make you feel like you have nothing to lose. We are all capable of becoming that person.”