Revamped gun bill heads to Senate floor

ATLANTA - The Senate Monday revived a gun bill that appeared to be dead for the year by attaching it to related legislation.

The bill, approved overwhelmingly by the Rules Committee, would prohibit businesses from banning their workers from bringing guns onto company property unless they apply the same rule to their customers.

But the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the measure as a violation of property rights, declared victory following the committee vote because of changes the panel made to satisfy business owners.

The so-called "parking-lot" bill was one of two major firearms measures introduced into the General Assembly this year, both supported by the powerful National Rifle Association.

The House passed legislation in February to allow motorists to carry a gun inside their cars wherever they want to. Under current law, weapons must be kept in a glove box or in plain sight.

Unable to get a vote in the Senate on the parking-lot bill before last month's "Crossover Day" deadline, supporters attached it to the House bill. The combined measure then was sent to the Senate Rules panel for Monday's hearing.

Both provisions drew opposition from several quarters.

Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper said allowing motorists to hide guns within easy reach would make traffic stops more dangerous for officers.

A representative of the Georgia PTA said guns inside cars in plain sight would be a dangerous temptation to children.

But Rep. Tim Bearden, R-Villa Rica, the bill's sponsor, said law-abiding gun owners should enjoy the same constitutional rights with their guns inside their cars that they do inside their homes.

"You should be able to put that firearm in the safest place," he said. "I don't want my 7-year-old going through the glove box. The safest place is under the seat."

Critics of the parking-lot bill called it both unnecessary and government intrusion into contracts between business owners and their employees.

A key provision in the bill would ban employers from searching their workers' cars.

"There's not a problem in this state with confiscation of guns by employers," said Joe Fleming, a lobbyist for the Georgia chamber.

Sen. John Douglas, R-Covington, said the bill represents a clear violation of employers' property rights.

"The property owner should have some sort of say over what can come onto their property," he said.

Douglas suggested that the bill be amended to allow exclude businesses that don't want to comply with its provisions.

In a sense, that's what the committee did in approving an amendment specifying that the bill would not restrict property owners' rights to control access to their property.

Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, who led the move to reconsider the parking-lot bill, said the amendment is aimed at businesses that might try to impose one set of rules on their customers and another on their employees.

"What this says is if you're a property owner, you can tell everybody not to bring guns onto your property," he said.

The legislation now moves to the full Senate.