St. Marys residents mixed on guns at church, school

ST. MARYS, Ga. -- Georgia residents with licenses to carry firearms may soon have more places they can carry those weapons.

The Georgia House of Representatives has passed a bill expanding the right to carry guns to houses of worship, more bars and government offices.

Not only would the bill allow guns into churches, more bars and government buildings not guarded by security, but it would allow teachers to carry arms in a school if a school district decided to allow it. St. Marys residents had a mixed reaction to the the new plan.

Angela Browning has two daughters who attend St. Marys Elementary School and feels it is a safe school and locked down tight. She likes the idea of a teacher being able to defend her child but is still conflicted about it.

"If a teacher had a gun it would be somewhat safer but then you have all the young'uns in there, but some kid tying to be macho or tough, just a kid being able to get a hold of it could create more problems," Browning said.

"I don't think any guns are safe in schools," said Pat Epstein. "I really believe if someone came in a school blasting away at people, the teachers could not get to the guns safely."

Pastor Steven Kegley of First Baptist Church in St. Marys supports people in schools being armed. He also has no problem with concealed weapons being carried into worship services.

"In our day and time, we are living in a society when there are people who are very dangerous. We never know when they might show up in a large group of people," Kegley said. "I just think it could be a good safety factor to have that in that service."

Kegley noted that he's heard of pastors being shot during services. He prays that a gun would never be used or have to be used in his church.

Bar patrons could carry a gun inside a bar if the bar owner did not decide to prohibit firearms. Kenneth Kelley owns Champs Sports Bar. Kelley, who served as a Marine and a police officer in the past, would have no problem with concealed weapons in his establishment if he knew who was carrying so he could keep an eye on their alcohol consumption.

"I would cut them off and say 'that is enough, you have a firearm, you need to put it in your car or it is time for you to leave,'" Kelley said. "If something does happen and is very intoxicated and does try to pull it on someone, it makes me feel better if there is someone drinking a soda there with a firearm besides myself."

House Republicans are pushing the measure because they are facing pressure from vocal gun rights groups after a similar effort failed last year.

The bill would lesson penalties for taking a gun on a college campus or into airport security. A person would be fined $100 and would not be arrested.

The measure must still go to the Georgia State Senate, which has been more reluctant to expand where people can legally take firearms.


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