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By Eric Stirgus February 26, 2014

Opposition to gun bill slightly less than stated

The Georgia House of Representatives recently passed legislation that would increase the types of places where guns could be allowed, but one lawmaker said most Georgians don’t support the changes.

"You are aware of the polling data that dictates the views of people in relation to this gun debate," Georgia state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, said during a floor debate concerning House Bill 875. "You are aware 80 percent-plus people don’t support these bills and these measures."

One House member who supported the legislation questioned Oliver’s numbers. PolitiFact Georgia wondered whether Oliver had accurately portrayed the people’s sentiments about the bill, or was she stretching the truth to win lawmakers to her side to vote against the bill.

HB 875, written and co-sponsored by several Republican lawmakers, would lift restrictions on guns in houses of worship and bars, and allow school board members to arm themselves. It would no longer be a crime for licensed gun owners carrying a firearm on a college campus, where they are banned, under the legislation. Instead, the penalty would be a $100 fine.

The bill does includes some restrictions, such as the mentally ill cannot get a gun license.

Despite Oliver’s protestations, the House overwhelmingly passed the bill by a 119-56 margin. Like many contentious bills, the vote went along party lines, with nearly all Republicans voting in favor of the legislation and virtually all Democrats against it.The legislation is now in the hands of the Georgia Senate.

Oliver said in her speech before fellow lawmakers that she asked people in her district how they felt about legislation that would expand gun rights in such fashion. Only 10 said they supported it while 156 said they opposed it. That, however, was not a scientific survey.

Since Oliver’s district covers only a portion of DeKalb County, we wanted to know what information she had to support her claim concerning how voters statewide felt about legislation like HB 875. Oliver sent us a January poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that found 72 percent of registered voters statewide oppose allowing firearms in houses of worship, while 26 percent said they favored the idea. The remaining 2 percent either did not answer or were not sure how they felt about the idea.

The question offered some interesting findings. Sixty-three percent of Republicans opposed the idea, while more than 90 percent of Democrats opposed it. A higher percentage of voters older than 65 were against the idea than those between the ages of 18 and 39. More than four out of five women said they were against allowing firearms in churches, while about 60 percent of men opposed the idea.

The poll also asked how did people feel about allowing people to carry firearms on college campuses and in dorms. Seventy-eight percent said they oppose the idea. Again, it showed a higher percentage of women were against the idea than men. Again, it showed a larger percentage of older voters were against the idea than younger voters. Seventy-one percent of Republicans polled said they were against allowing firearms on college campuses. More than 90 percent of Democrats opposed the idea.

The AJC poll surveyed 802 adults statewide between Jan. 6 and Jan. 9 on what issues Georgians want their Legislature to tackle in 2014. The margin of error for each response is plus or minus 4 percentage points. It was conducted by Abt SRBI of New York by live operators and included respondents via cellphone and land line.

Oliver also sent us data from a poll conducted by Georgians for Gun Safety in 2010. It showed 76 percent of the respondents felt the state "definitely should not" allow anyone with a gun permit to carry a firearm into a house of worship. An additional 10 percent said Georgia "probably should not" allow gun permit holder to carry in a house of worship.

The Georgians for Gun Safety poll also asked for the public’s opinion about allowing people to carry firearms onto a college campus. Sixty-four percent responded "definitely should not" while an additional 12 percent answered "probably should not."

In 2013, Atlanta’s NBC affiliate, 11 Alive, polled Georgians on the topic. It found 64 percent thought it should "remain unlawful" for firearms to be carried into churches. Twenty-six percent supported the idea. Sixty-five percent of those who responded to the poll said the law should be illegal to carry firearms on college campuses.  

To sum up, Oliver said more than 80 percent of Georgians do not support measures like those proposed in House Bill 875.

Most of the polling data we reviewed shows a majority of Georgians oppose firearms in houses of worship or on college campuses. But there’s not much data that we saw that surpasses the 80 percent mark.

Oliver’s overall point that most Georgians oppose firearms in bars, on campus or in houses of worship is on the mark. But her specific percentage is too high, and she used the number to pursue a specific political point.

We rate Oliver’s claim Half True.

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Opposition to gun bill slightly less than stated

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