Cindy Wheeler carries her gun while handing out buttons at a House Bill 60 signing event in Ellijay in 2014. HB 60, signed into law during the event by Gov. Nathan Deal, broadly loosened Georgia’s gun restrictions. BRANT SANDERLIN /BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM .

Georgia lawmakers: Don’t politicize Vegas, but new gun laws possible

Georgia is a haven for gun owners, hunters and collectors, and state officials have long issued protections for those individuals: Almost every year, a bill is pushed in the Legislature to make it easier to buy or carry weapons.

State lawmakers don’t expect that to change, even as they have decried efforts to politicize the Law Vegas shootings.

“What happened in Las Vegas is a horrific tragedy,” said state House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “Families have lost loved ones, and the nation is grieving with them. It is both premature and reprehensible to inject politics into what are personal tragedies until the investigation of this incident is complete and while families are mourning.”

Interest in gun-carrier freedoms has actually spiked here in recent years in the wake of mass shootings at schools and other acts of terror using firearms. Earlier this year, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law another legal expansion. For the first time, Georgia gun owners who have a state-issued “carry” license may legally bring their weapons onto the state’s public college campuses.

It was a hard-fought victory for advocates at the Capitol. And it came as legislation to further expand gun rights await consideration going into the state’s next legislative session, which begins in January.

That includes bills such as House Bill 156 and House Bill 286, both of which would ease restrictions on carrying firearms in the state’s parks and historic sites. Licensed carry holders may already carry a gun into many of those areas, but HB 286, for example, would expand that list of eligibility to include anyone who doesn’t have a license but would otherwise be “eligible” to get one.

“I couldn’t tell you at this point what effect (Las Vegas) will have,” said House Public Safety Committee Chairman Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, long a sponsor of gun bills who helped shepherd the campus gun bill through the legislative process this year.

In the case of the Las Vegas shooter, “whatever the guy’s rational or motivation, this guy was no doubt mentally unstable,” Powell said. And even with the adoption of strict gun control measures, “that’s not going to stop them from using heinous means of harming the public.”

Powell said he personally believes people who have mental health issues may need more scrutiny. But he was adamant that it not affect the status of law-abiding citizens who have guns.

“You cannot infringe on a citizen’s constitutional right,” he said.

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