Surrounded by people with guns, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday made the Peach State one of the gun-friendliest places on the planet.
At a picnic spot in north Georgia, Governor Deal signed a bill that allows gun owners who have permits to carry their weapons almost everywhere in the state except the state Capitol building. That includes bars, churches, and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest in the world.
Business owners in Georgia can opt to keep their stores gun-free if they so choose, under the new law.
Although critics decry the legislation as the "guns everywhere" law, its proponents grumble that it got watered down as it moved through the lawmaking process. The bill originally called for removal of gun-free zones around the state's public colleges and universities, but in the end those no-gun zones remain in place.
With the new law, Georgia has stepped outside of the mainstream on gun policy, opponents say.
During the bill-signing, the governor, who has an "A" rating from the NRA, said he believes the law will make Georgians safer.
Saying that the Second Amendment “should never be an afterthought,” Deal noted that the law applies to the 5 percent of Georgians who have concealed carry permits. These residents, he said, are “license holders [who] have passed background checks and are in good standing with the law. This law gives added protections to those who have played by the rules – and who can protect themselves and others who don’t play by the rules.”
Opponents worry that guns carried into more places increase the risk of gun violence. There is conflicting research concerning whether gun policies like the one just adopted by Georgia deter crime or pose a greater danger to society.
As many as 8 million Americans have concealed carry permits. The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, in Newtown, Conn., prompted some states to enact tighter gun-control measures, but in the end, states enacted many more laws to expand the rights of their residents to carry weapons for self-defense.
Georgia appears to be at the forefront of embracing more guns in public.
"Among its many extreme provisions, [the Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014] allows guns in TSA [Transportation Security Administration] lines at the country's busiest airport, forces community school boards into bitter, divisive debates about whether they should allow guns in their children's classrooms, and broadens the conceal carry eligibility to people who have previously committed crimes with guns," Pia Carusone, senior adviser for Americans for Responsible Solutions, which opposed the law, told CNN.
While residents can carry guns inside airport terminals in Georgia, they cannot take their weapons through security to the gates.
The law also lowers the age for concealed carry in Georgia from 21 to 18. That’s the legal age to become a soldier in the United States, Deal noted.