ATLANTA — Scores of Atlanta's law enforcement, transit and business leaders joined Mayor Shirley Franklin on Thursday to urge Gov. Sonny Perdue to veto a bill that would allow Georgians to carry concealed handguns onto trains and buses and into restaurants that serve alcohol.
"This is not about the right to bear arms," Franklin, a Democrat, said at a news conference at City Hall. "This is about public safety. . . . There is a direct public safety risk to all of us if guns are permitted on public transit [and in] restaurants and parks."
The controversial bill, which passed Georgia's General Assembly on the last day of the 2007-08 session, has created a showdown between state legislators and civic leaders, who say they were caught unaware after changes were tacked onto the bill at the last minute.
Though many of Georgia's Republican legislators say they are simply upholding citizens' constitutional right to carry weapons, some city leaders have expressed concern that the bill would lead to vigilantism.
For Atlanta to be a safe city, officials need to presume "that there are not concealed weapons and only those who are acting criminally might have them," said Franklin, who was flanked by the city's police chief and the general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Beverly A. Scott, general manager of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, said allowing passengers to carry guns was "insanity."
Since the bill passed April 4, public transit workers have distributed a petition calling for drivers and operators to be separated from passengers with bulletproof partitions.
Under the bill, Georgians would not be allowed to carry concealed guns to athletic events, churches, political rallies or bars, but they could carry them onto trains and buses and into state parks, historic sites and restaurants that derive at least 50% of their revenue from food sales.
"We hear all this stuff about how people are going to drop their chicken wings and start blasting," said state Rep. Tim Bearden, the bill's author, who attended the news conference to defend his legislation. "But we're talking about law- abiding citizens, not criminals. Law-abiding citizens should have the right to decide for themselves."
If Perdue, a Republican, signs the bill, Georgia will not be the first state to loosen gun restrictions. Bearden said 37 states allow firearms in restaurants that serve alcohol and 43 states allow firearms on public transportation.
Opponents of the bill say that what makes the relaxed restrictions particularly dangerous in Georgia are the state's lenient rules governing gun permits.
Georgians can get a firearms license if they are at least 21 years old, fill out an application with a local probate judge and submit to a criminal background check.
The "blending of alcohol and firearms" poses a particular concern, said Ron Wolf, executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Assn.
Law-abiding citizens under the influence of alcohol sometimes make bad judgments, he argued.
Though the bill stipulates that it would be a misdemeanor for a person to "consume alcoholic beverages in a restaurant or other eating establishment while carrying a gun," Wolf said enforcement would be a problem.
"Restaurant staff can't frisk everyone that walks in," he said. "That leaves us with some sort of bizarre honor system where we're depending on the customer to tell us they're carrying a gun before we serve them a drink."
The deadline for Perdue to sign or veto the bill is May 4. He has not said what he intends to do.
Last month, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine vetoed a bill that would have allowed concealed handguns in restaurants, citing employee and customer safety. In Arizona, a similar bill was vetoed three years ago by Gov. Janet Napolitano after strong opposition from the state tourism industry.