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Lawmakers pitch gun plans; leadership is cautious

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 26, 2013 at 3:42 pm •  Published: January 26, 2013

The strongest desire to make changes thus far appears to be among conservative Republicans in the House. GOP senators have been largely silent on the topic.

Freshman Rep. Charles Gregory, R-Kennesaw, has four bills that would effectively make Georgia an open-carry state, including in churches and on campuses. He hasn't taken any action beyond pre-filing the proposals before the session began and he conceded that he has laid no groundwork with Ralston or other House GOP leaders.

"I'm still new to this process," he said. "My strategy is that I know how important Second Amendment rights are to Georgians and to several members of the General Assembly. So I will do everything I can to move these bills forward."

Another pair of bills, each with multiple Republican sponsors, would exempt a Georgia-made weapon from any new federal restriction on firearms. Another would bar state law enforcement officers, prosecutors and other government employees from enforcing federal gun restrictions on Georgia-made weapons.

The proposals are patterned after laws enacted in at least five other states, including Tennessee. The idea is that the federal government has no authority over guns manufactured and sold in a single state, because Congress draws its power to regulate weapons under the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause, which refers to "interstate commerce."

According to legislative records, Ralston has not yet assigned either bill to a committee. The sponsors include Rep. Delvis Dutton, a tea party-aligned Republican from Glennville who tried to unseat Ralston Donna Sheldon as chair of the Republican Caucus.

In a recent interview, Ralston highlighted Rep. Paul Battles' proposal to allow designated school officials to carry weapons on campus. "That may be worth some discussion," the speaker said. Battles has emphasized that the proposal leaves the decision up to each school district, while requiring training for any employee authorized to carry a weapon.

The National Rifle Association has called for armed guards in every U.S. school. Many Georgia high schools already employ "school resource officers," who typically are armed. The state Department of Education does not track how many local schools have armed guards.

National teachers' unions have spoken out against any proposals that would make it easier for anyone other than sworn officers to have guns on campuses.

Georgia Superintendent John Barge tries to thread the needle on guns. He declined to comment on specific proposals, but spoke highly of school resource officers.

"They were added security for me and my building," he said of his time as a high school principal. But on the idea of arming any other adult on campus, Barge said, "I think I'd be a little more cautious than I would be in terms of an SRO."