A bill that would allow licensed Georgia gun owners to carry firearms into unguarded government buildings, including courthouses, has cleared a major legislative hurdle but seems to have caught judges' groups off guard.
Douglas County Superior Court Judge David Emerson, the president of the state Council of Superior Court Judges, said he is uncomfortable with the provision.
"In my courtroom, I do not allow firearms on anybody other than courtroom security officerseven [police] officers, who we trust, aren't allowed. I don't like the idea of a witness on a witness stand with a gun."
The superior court judges' council was not aware of the provision, but Emerson said he anticipates its members will have a "serious discussion" about it this week.
The courthouse carry provision is part of a 16-page bill that would ease restrictions on where licensed gun owners may carry their weapons, including churches, bars and college campuses. Known as the Safe Carry Protection Act, House Bill 512 also would allow Georgians with gun licenses to carry firearms into government buildings and courthouses "where ingress into such building or courthouse is not restricted or screened by security personnel during the hours the government building or courthouse is open for business."
HB 512 passed the House in a 117-56 vote on March 7, which was the 30th day of the 40-day sessionwhen bills must pass their chamber of origin or die. Its primary sponsor in the House is Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, a retired county extension agent.
Emerson said the presence of firearms in a courthouse could pose both safety and intimidation concerns.
"Let's say there was a divorce going on with a pro se litigant who was armed. Just imagine that," said Emerson. "I may be taking away that person's children. It would be a very intimidating atmosphere. ... Tempers already are hot enough, and one of those people has a weapon there."
Forsyth County Probate Court Judge Lynwood "Woody" Jordan, past-president of the Council of Probate Court Judges and chairman of its legislative committee, also said the courthouse carry provision could lead to threats on judges.
"The council has not taken an official position, but I've been getting feedback from judges that they don't want to deal with that because they don't have security in the building in which their officers are located," Jordan said. "In my particular case, we don't have security except when we're actually having court.
"We've had people arrested bringing weapons into my office," he added. "If this bill passes and this person comes in with a weapon, they'd be doing it legally. I don't want anybody in my office with a weapon."