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New State Gun Laws Causing Confusion

In the wake of recent shootings at a FedEx facility and a Georgia county courthouse, where individuals may lawfully carry guns and whether and how organizations may limit that ability continue to be controversial issues that businesses, organizations, and the public face throughout the nation. A number of states have addressed the issue, with Georgia being one of the most recent to do so with the enactment of The Safe Carry Protection Act.

The Georgia law takes effect on July 1st of this year and expands the number of locations where gun owners can carry weapons. This expansion is causing concern and confusion throughout the state, particularly among city and county administrators, boards of education, bar owners and church leaders.

In the Public Sector, the new law allows properly licensed individuals to carry weapons, during normal business hours, into government buildings when entry is not restricted or screened by security personnel. A government building is broadly defined to include, in essence, any location where the government conducts business (excluding schools).

Access to most government buildings in Georgia is not restricted or screened. Because the new law continues to restrict weapons in courthouses and jails, some government agencies are considering whether to “rename” their building a “courthouse,” or increase security. Local governments do, however, retain the authority to regulate the carrying and possession of firearms by employees in the course of their employment.

Prior to the passage of the new law, if businesses and non-profit organizations did not want firearms on their property, they had to “opt-out” of weapons carrying, i.e., they had to affirmatively prohibit guns on their premises. The biggest difference in this new law relates to the rights of individuals to carry weapons into bars and churches. Previously, weapons in churches and bars were prohibited. Now, churches may choose to “opt-in” and allow licensed individuals to carry weapons in a place of worship, while bar owners must affirmatively “opt-out” of weapons carrying. In other words, weapons are presumptively allowed in bars but not in churches, unless owners and leaders decide otherwise.

In support of ongoing efforts to reduce the risk of workplace violence, organizations are revising and reviewing their practices and policies. This process is being made more difficult and complex by the recent changes in the law and the differing stances taken by the states.

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