Carrying a .45-caliber pistol on his side, Guy Bennett said his 22-year-old son was in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater where a gunman opened fire during a July 20 showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. Bennett’s son’s girlfriend was among those hit in the mass shooting, but survived.
Bennett, speaking to a panel discussion of eight current, outgoing and future Republican state representatives and senators at the Cobb GOP’s Legislative Breakfast, said his son had a concealed handgun license in Colorado, but wasn’t allowed to take his gun into the movie theater.
“We need to abolish the defenseless victim zones,” said Bennett, who recently moved to the area from Colorado. “I’m tired of explaining to him why his girlfriend was shot and he could not defend himself — a God-given right.”
Bennett said he is fearful when he walks his 4-year-old son to school and church.
“I have to take my sidearm off and pray to God that there’s not a shooter anywhere nearby because my new Georgia state legislators have deemed that I can either have faith in God or I can defend myself, but I can’t do both,” he said.
Rep.-elect Charles Gregory of Kennesaw spoke up, telling Bennett that four bills he has drafted would address his concerns. His bills would eliminate the need for a concealed weapons license as long as a person is eligible to vote, allow churches to decide if they want to allow guns in their services, allow guns to be carried on college campuses and eliminate the governor’s power to limit the sale or ownership of guns during emergency conditions.
Each time he read the details of his proposed bills, Gregory received applause from members of the audience that appeared to challenge the posted 112-person maximum for the room at Cobb GOP Headquarters.
But Bennett wanted to know why grade schools weren’t included in the areas where guns would be allowed.
“If we’re doing all these background checks for weapons to carry licenses, if we do all these background checks on our educators and our school administrators, but we deem them unworthy to defend the very children that we entrust with their education,” he said. “I would like to see you folks address that in this upcoming session.”
While he acknowledged that he would like to see legislation allowing for concealed weapons at schools in the future, Gregory said it might be too soon after the Dec. 14 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in which a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children.
“That particular right is going to be attacked vigorously this time with the media and with what happened up north,” Gregory said. “So we’re going to need as many people to be as vocal about that as possible.”
Gregory said it will be important to approach the issue in a way that doesn’t “sound kooky.”
“We have to let the other side know that we’re doing it because we care about our children too, and because we believe that is the best way to protect our children, our communities and also to keep the balance of power in the hands of the people,” he said. “We definitely need to focus on sounding sound minded.”
State Rep. Sharon Cooper of east Cobb echoed Gregory’s statements, saying that the chair of a committee that dealt with a gun bill last year had her life threatened and subsequently didn’t run for re-election.
“When they threaten legislators, what the response is from the leadership is to go the other way,” Cooper said. “There is a way to do it and a way not to do it, and if you threaten people and get in their faces and act kooky and demanding and threaten people’s lives and so forth, then the leadership backs off and goes the other way. So I can’t stress how important it is to come and stand up for what you believe in, but to do it in a respectful, thoughtful manner.”
Rep. Ed Setzler of Acworth said Georgia has very restrictive gun laws, many of which date back to the Jim Crow era of the early 20th Century. At the time, laws were intended to keep black residents from buying firearms, but granted law enforcement officers the ability to allow their “buddies” to carry guns.
“We have a civil right to fundamentally protect ourselves,” Setzler said. “You’ve got a mom walking down the streets of Decatur who gets mugged; she can defend herself and use a firearm to do that. Why when she walks on a campus does she have to relinquish her right to defend herself?
“The facts are most citizens don’t feel the need to carry a firearm, so most people today, unfortunately, come to the conclusion to be complacent and say, ‘I don’t really need to carry a firearm,’ and they don’t study public policy, and they are easily led into thinking gun-free zones are OK, but have never thought about it” Setzler continued. “I want you guys, every person in this room, to become an expert at chasing out the misconceptions about firearms, the misconception about it being about guns. It’s not about guns, it’s about one’s basic fundamental right to protect themselves and their family anywhere and not relinquishing their civil rights in a civil rights free, i.e. gun free, zone.”
Bennett’s comments came on the same day as another shooting in Aurora that left four people dead, including the suspected gunman, after a standoff with law enforcement at a townhome.
Cobb Probate Court has reported record applications for concealed weapons permits since the Connecticut shootings, when calls for gun-control measures like reinstating the national assault weapons ban have been made. And long lines to get into gun shows at county buildings on Dec. 22 and again Saturday have led to sellers raising their prices.
Guns weren’t the only topic Gregory, state director of the Ron Paul for president campaign, touched on. He said it might be time for Georgia to look at its own currency to help the states get off their reliance on federal grants.
“As long as the federal government can print their own money and we can’t, we’re just going to see all our value out the backdoor, and they’re going to offer us a little bit back in order to do whatever they want us to do,” Gregory said. “I haven’t done the research to see the feasibility, but I would really like to see some kind of competing currency within the state that would allow us to remove some of our dependency, whether it’s gold or silver.”
Chad Teague of Acworth said he was pleased with Gregory’s message.
“I like the fact that he talks about getting rid of old bills that are outdated,” he said. “So many people talk about what they’re going to do, I’d rather see them talk about what they’re not going to do.”