By JOHN STORER
Summit Baptist Church in Acworth is preparing to deal with the effects of Georgia House Bill 60, the Safe Carry Protection Act, when it goes into effect July 1.
The bill was signed into law by Nathan Deal on April 23.. The law, which some people are calling the “guns everywhere bill,” allows those with a Georgia Weapons Carry License to carry firearms into bars, unless the bar owner explicitly forbids it. It also allows churches to establish their own policies on whether their attendees are allowed to carry firearms while on church grounds.
“With the bars … it’s like a blanket. It’s going to be allowed regardless unless the property owner, the bar owner, say ‘No, I don’t want guns here.’So if it’s not posted, you can carry in a bar,” said Capt. Mark Cheatham of the Acworth Police Department.
“Now with the church, it’s kind of the exact opposite but it accomplishes the same. While a bar is an automatic yes you can, a church is an automatic no unless the church … has a policy that it is OK … once the church approves it then it is fine.”
In layman’s terms, any individual who has a gun license may carry their firearm into a bar, unless the owner of that bar or any of his employees tell them not to. With churches, the opposite is true. It is illegal for an individual to carry their firearm into a church unless they have expressed permission from a church official. Those who violate the law will be met with a $100 fine. This leaves churches to make their own decisions on whether to allow guns into their services or not.
“What we’re doing at our church is we’re going to create a policy that states that only off-duty and on-duty law enforcement can carry weapons on church property,” said Associate Pastor Lee Gambrell of Summit Baptist Church. “There’s a reason for that, it’s not that we’re anti-gun or anything, but we have to keep in mind the safety of our people.”
Lee went on to say that reason number one for this policy is so that if people come to the church with their pistols in plain view on their hip, or with their rifles slung over their backs, they can refer to that policy. They can then ask them to either leave their guns in their cars or to leave the church without seeming like they are showing partiality to one individual over another.
“The second reason is if there ever was an incident in the church with an active shooter or someone on the property that was causing problems, then we want people who are trained, people who know what they’re doing as they then deal with that situation,” Gambrell said. “It’s one thing to go to a shooting range and shoot comfortably at a piece of paper. Just because you’re able to shoot at a range and hit the target doesn’t mean you’re qualified to then be put into an active shooting situation.”
Gabrell said he didn’t think this policy would deter people from attending. In addition, most of the other churches in the area that he has spoken with concerning the law plan to implement a similar policy.