More Twists For Gun Bill Than A Spiraling Bullet
By Dick Pettys
(4/3/08) True to its extensive history, there was nothing easy about it Wednesday as a proxy for the gun bill made a new appearance in the Senate on the next-to-last working day of the session after laying dormant for weeks.
A House-passed bill authorizing constables to carry weapons was first amended by gun enthusiasts in the Senate to include expanded gun-carry provisions. Then opponents threw a monkey wrench into the works by attaching an amendment that was so long that it triggered a Senate rule forcing it back onto the general calendar and, thus, potentially killing it.
After a huge huddle at the podium around Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the amendment was reconsidered and the bill was summarily laid on the table. Then, several hours later, it was removed from the table and passed - minus the crippling amendment.
The whole episode caused more than a little confusion during the initial debate.
You'll remember, this is an issue that's been fought for two years, much of the time involving a clash over gun rights vs. private property rights between the National Rifle Association and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
That got settled - more or less - earlier this session when the Senate essentially gutted the NRA-backed bill to the Chamber's satisfaction but left enough of it intact to allow the NRA to claim a partial victory.
Problem was, not all gun advocates were satisfied and instead of accepting the Senate's re-working of the bill - described by the Senate as a take-it-or-leave-it measure - the House took the measure and added a number of amendments to broaden carry rights. The NRA then sided with the House and turned its grassroots network loose against the Senate to create some pressure for the new House provisions.
That's been rocking along in the background for weeks with no progress until Wednesday, when gun enthusiasts sought to use HB 257 on Wednesday's Senate debate calendar as a way to get some of the House amendments to conference committee and ultimately to final passage.
Here's how it went down:
During the debate, the Senate voted without objection to add provisions which would allow those with carry permits to carry concealed weapons on public transportation, and which would allow them to carry weapons in restaurants through a carefully-crafted sentence that would stipulate those who were permitted to carry firearms "shall not consume alcoholic beverages in a restaurant or other eating establishment while carrying a firearm."
Problem was, the Senate also adopted an amendment offered from the floor by Sen. Vincent Fort, who opposed the bill, and which required Georgia colleges to develop emergency response plans for shooting incidents.
Because that amendment was more than half as long as the original bill, it triggered a Senate rule which would have required it to return to the general calendar on the last day of the session.
That touched off an extended huddle at the front of the chamber after Sen. Preston Smith moved to reconsider the amendment and others protested that he had missed the point at which that could be done.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle ultimately ruled the amendment could be reconsidered, and it was. But then the bill and its amendments were laid on the table, from which it could be recalled at any time.
"What happened?" a lobbyist waiting outside the chambers asked. And a senator who joined him later had the same question.
Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour said Senate leaders wanted time to look at the bill and decide how to proceed.
After a dinner recess, the Senate pulled the bill off the table, killed Fort's amendment and one other and then sent the amended bill back to the House. It almost certainly will go to a conference committee, where it may pick up further changes.
And the bill that sparked it all - HB 89, the NRA-backed parking lot bill, currently in a dormant conference committee - may emerge from that conference committee, after all - just as the Senate passed it.
This is a bill that began last year as an effort to prohibit employers from barring workers from having guns in their cars, and has been a charged issue for a long time. It even brought the NRA's Wayne LaPierre to Atlanta late last year to lobby for the parking lots bill, which was vigorously opposed by the Chamber of Commerce.
What the NRA eventually got this year was a drastically scaled-back version of the parking lot ban, and it was viewed as a loss for the gun organization at the time, although it gave the group enough for it to claim a win.
The issue didn't get resolved then, however, because the House took the Senate bill and added the new, broadened carry provisions. The NRA, not really happy with its treatment at the hands of the Senate, then turned its forces loose to try to pass the House version of HB 89.