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Half million? – Cities say gun bill is costly

Avondale Estates Decatur Kirkwood and East Lake

Half million? – Cities say gun bill is costly

Illustration. Wikimedia Commons.

Illustration. Wikimedia Commons.

This story has been updated. 

During the June 2 City Commission meeting Assistant City Manager Andrea Arnold said Decatur taxpayers may have to spend $500,000 securing government buildings because of the new “Guns everywhere” law.

The city of Atlanta’s finance department reports that the gun bill might cost city taxpayers money, too. Jerry Henry, executive director of the gun rights advocacy group Georgia Carry, said there is nothing in the law that requires cities to spend money on additional security.

“That will only be done at the will of the local ‘leaders’ because they do not trust law-abiding citizens to exercise their constitutional rights,” Henry said.

Arnold said the $500,000 estimate is strictly “back of the napkin.” It’s not in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal that the City Commission is studying.

“It depends on if the city takes any action to address the gun law,” Arnold explained after the June 2 meeting.  “… Look at the law and see what it says in terms of what the city county governments’ options are if you’re going to have any kind of control over weapons entering a public building or a public meeting. The law lays out what you can and can’t do.”

Gov. Nathan Deal recently signed House Bill 60, aka Guns Everywhere, and it was supported by his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Jason Carter. It expands the places where Georgians can legally carry guns. The more controversial provisions allow gun owners to carry into churches and bars unless property owners prohibit it.

City officials in Atlanta and Decatur said the bill will have implications for all cities in Georgia.

Atlanta Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard said he doesn’t have an estimate about what the city will have to spend securing its buildings because of the law.

When asked how the law might affect cities, he quoted the following section of HB 60:

206 (e) (1) A license holder shall be authorized to carry a weapon in a government building
207 when the government building is open for business and where ingress into such building
208 is not restricted or screened by security personnel. A license holder who enters or attempts
209 to enter a government building carrying a weapon where ingress is restricted or screened
210 by security personnel shall be guilty of a misdemeanor if at least one member of such
211 security personnel is certified as a peace officer pursuant to Chapter 8 of Title 35; provided,
212 however, that a license holder who immediately exits such building or immediately leaves
213 such location upon notification of his or her failure to clear security due to the carrying of
214 a weapon shall not be guilty of violating this subsection or paragraph (1) of subsection (b)
215 of this Code section. A person who is not a license holder and who attempts to enter a
216 government building carrying a weapon shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

“If a city wants to have a sterile facility they will have to have security screening,” Beard said. “Screening comes at a cost.”

City Manager Peggy Merriss said there are several buildings the city would need to secure under the new law, which goes into effect July 1.

“Basically, if the City wants to prohibit the possession of weapons (guns, knives, nunchucks, etc.) in public facilities we will have to purchase screening equipment for each building and there has to be staff at the screening device,” Merriss said via email.  “We would likely be looking at City Hall, Decatur Recreation Center, Ebster Recreation Center and Public Works. When you add the number of hours each of these facilities are open and operating (including hours for public meetings at City Hall), the staffing requirements start adding up, particularly if we have to have a sworn officer as the screener, which has been suggested by some interpretations of HB 60.”

Avondale Estates City Manager Clai Brown did not return messages seeking comment about what the gun bill might cost taxpayers there. Mayor Ed Rieker recently announced that the city staff will not be responding to questions from Decaturish because of the coverage of an April 12 fire that claimed the lives of two residents. However, a member of the city’s police department this week provided comment for a story about  crime trends during the summer.

Henry said nothing should change for governments as a result of the law, saying if they didn’t need security before, they won’t need it now.

“These local governments do not want to allow law-abiding citizens the right to protect themselves and their families in a facility that is not protected by government,” he said. “This tells me a few things about how the local governments feel about the people they are sworn to protect.”

Henry encouraged taxpayers in Atlanta and Georgia to speak out against spending money on additional security measures, because they aren’t needed.

“I would hope the citizens of each municipality would attend all the hearings their local governments hold when they decide to waste more tax dollars,” he said. “This is the only way for the law-abiding citizens to be able to protect themselves and eliminate more government waste.”