In an "unprecedented" move, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a legislation that significantly expands gun rights in the state this past Wednesday.
Gov. Deal called it "a great day to reaffirm our liberties," saying the law allows residents to protect their families and specifies where Georgia residents can carry weapons, including some bars, churches, school zones, government buildings and certain parts of airports, the Marietta Daily Journal reports.
"The Second Amendment should never be an afterthought. It should be at the forefront of our minds," Deal said.
"Roughly 500,000 Georgia citizens have a permit of this kind, which is approximately 5 percent of our population. License holders have passed background checks and are in good standing with the law. This law gives added protections to those who have played by the rules -- and who can protect themselves and others from those who don't play by the rules," the governor continued.
The legislation, or "House Bill 60," is described by the National Rifle Association as "the most comprehensive pro-gun reform legislation introduced in recent state history." In addition to increasing firearm-approved areas, the bill prohibits the state from creating a database of licensed weapons carriers and repeals the state-required license for a firearms dealer. The new law will create "an absolute defense for the legal use of deadly force in the face of a violent attack."
While proponents of the bill applaud the move as protecting American liberties, critics argue that allowing guns in more places will not promote safety and may, in fact, lead to more deaths.
Colin Goddard, a survivor of the 2007 campus shooting at Virginia Tech, told Georgia Public Broadcasting that a legislation that denies criminal prosecution of felons who use illegal firearms in the act of self-defense is highly worrisome.
"The stand your ground expansion is truly a new type of stand your ground as we know it," Goddard said. "To expand it in such a way to remove all carrying or possession offenses is really unprecedented."
The bill allows school districts to allow some employees to carry a firearm under certain conditions. In addition, fingerprinting for renewing weapons carry licenses is no longer required.
Ruthanne Torres, a schoolteacher in Marietta, Georgia, fears the bill will put schools in danger. "We have seen far too many school shootings over the past several years. There are too many mentally ill people allowed to carry guns near school zones-I worry about the safety of myself and students."
However, Jerry Henry of GeorgiaCarry.org told GPB News he doesn't expect to see an increase in gun sales or other gun related business in Georgia.
"I don't think people are going to look at it and say, 'Oh Georgia just passed a new law and I'm going to move over there because it's so much easier.' I don't think we're going to see that," he said. "Arizona, Wyoming, Alaska, Vermont - they all have Constitutional Carry."
The legislation will go into effect July 1 of this year.