The Newtown school massacre has provoked fiery debates at the federal and state levels on whether to scale back the rights of gun owners.
But in Georgia, the focus isn’t entirely on curtailing gun rights.
Many of the more than two dozen gun bills filed so far this session in the General Assembly are pushing for expanded access to firearms across the Peach State.
This legislative session, following the shooting of 20 students and six adults in a Connecticut elementary school, the debate has been amplified to the point that both sides have the potential to drown out each other and get nothing done.
“I have a real disposition against legislating to exploit a tragedy,” House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said last week during a legislative forum hosted by the University of Georgia. “You may see one or two of these measures move, but I don’t think you’ll see a dramatic shift.”
Across U.S., in Georgia
The debate comes amid national deliberation over gun safety. Congress is expected this week to begin considering legislation that could include expanding background checks for gun buyers and increasing penalties for those who buy guns for criminals.
The debate is also playing out in state capitals across the country. In one closely watched debate, Colorado legislators are considering a package of gun-control bills that include banning weapons on college campuses, requiring background checks on all gun sales and limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds.
In Georgia, the bills under consideration cover familiar topics, such as whether students should be allowed to carry guns on college campuses and whether assault weapons should be banned in the state altogether.
But other issues have risen to the top, including expanding mental health checks for gun owners who want to “conceal and carry” and deciding whether public school employees can arm themselves.
“It’s part of a generally conservative agenda which puts a great emphasis on the Second Amendment,” UGA political science professor Charles Bullock said. “In this state, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, you’re not going to get very far until you affirm support of gun ownership — even if you (support) greater gun-control measures.”
College campuses are one focal point in the debate.
Some of the classes Taylor Liffers takes at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta are at night. The university has police, but there are times, Liffers said, that he would like to carry his gun as he walks to class.
“It’s a very nervous feeling,” said Liffers, 23, a member of Georgia Students for Concealed Carry. “I find it wrong I’m not allowed to carry on campus.”
Read more: AJC