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Public areas no place for guns

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POSTED: May 27, 2008 5:00 a.m.
In my 15 years of advocating for gun violence prevention, I have never witnessed such an intense public debate about firearms policy. It is a crucial conversation that impacts all Georgians.
The discussion is not about whether handgun ownership should be permitted, but it instead revolves around where guns belong in our public lives. It is about how private acts have serious consequences. And, it is also about politics in an election year.
It is shocking that Georgia is proposing to allow concealed firearms in public places such as parks, restaurants that serve alcohol and on public transportation.
Guns do not belong in places that serve alcohol, in our public parks and recreation areas or on public transit. Allowing firearms in these places endangers children and families, increases the likelihood of tragic shootings of innocent bystanders and endangers law enforcement personnel.
Guns on buses and trains in the hands of anyone but law enforcement will not make for safer public places. Law enforcement officers are trained to assess the risk of firing their weapon on a bus or train. Anyone else with a gun, even with good intentions, would likely injure or even kill innocent passengers. If the driver is injured, the safety of all of the passengers, other motorists and pedestrians is jeopardized.
As for restaurants, those who carry concealed weapons would not be allowed to drink alcohol, but how is a restaurant supposed to know who has a gun? Will they check with metal detectors at the front door or by allowing the waiter to frisk them or simply by the honor system? What about liability if a shooting occurs?
Guns should also not be allowed in public parks or recreation areas. Thousands of people, including families from outside Georgia, regularly visit and enjoy our state's many beautiful parks and historic sites. State parks and recreational areas are favorite locations for young people. There are often few other options for youth entertainment that is safe and uplifting.
Schools regularly take students on field trips and outings to these same natural areas. Will such trips stop because school systems can't shoulder the responsibility or the liability?
If guns are allowed in public places, law enforcement agencies will be forced to respond to more calls, sort out altercations between gun owners and their targets, and use valuable resources that should instead be concentrated on bringing criminals to justice. There will be many more aggravated assault cases to be investigated. It is the mission of law enforcement to investigate and solve crimes, and more guns in public will only make their work more difficult, not less.
Finally, people carrying concealed firearms are not trained in law enforcement. But some gun owners with concealed weapons permits use that explanation in advocating for their position. Police authority comes only from the Police Officers Standards Training Council, which is rigorously upheld, and requires regular training and annual qualifying in the use of physical force and firearms marksmanship. Permit holders must pay $15 and pass a fingerprint background check. The requirements for getting a concealed weapons permit in Georgia do not encourage either responsible gun ownership and use, or community safety.
Allowing concealed weapons in public places is not only bad policy, it is also dangerous policy. It appears that our lawmakers may have crossed the line of common sense and they surely have underestimated the public sentiment about where firearms belong and where they don't. Perhaps they were distracted by election year politics. It is now up to Governor Perdue to end the debate by listening to the people.

Johnson is the executive director for Georgians for Gun Safety. This column was distributed by the Georgia Forum, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational organization.
 

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