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Posted: July 7, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Packing heat in public

It's been a very difficult year for politicians trying to raise money for their campaigns, but state Rep. Sean Jerguson (R-Holly Springs) seems to have come up with an idea that's right on target.

Jerguson is a stocky, amiable person who operates a combination gun shop and shooting range in Cherokee County called "Hi-Caliber."

The two-term legislator, like everyone else running for public office in Georgia, knows that the recession has dried up many of the usual sources for campaign contributions.

People who have had their homes foreclosed or lost their businesses to bankruptcy don't generally have spare money to give to a political candidate - and there are a lot of people in that condition these days.

Jerguson tried something different last week. He held a fundraising event at his shooting range that combined elements of a raffle and a marksmanship competition.

Entrants paid $50 to shoot at targets denoting the various playing cards in a 52-card deck. Whichever five cards a shooter hit were the five cards that made up his poker hand. The shooter who ended up with the best poker hand won the grand prize: an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle (the weapon upon which the military based the M16 that is standard issue for infantrymen).

The event was clearly a success. "We raised a little over $10,000," Jerguson said, which is not a bad amount for a House race.

Among those who paid the entry fee for Jerguson's shooting match were House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock). Neither Rogers nor Ralston won the assault weapon, which Jerguson said was awarded to a Cherokee County resident.

Coincidentally, Jerguson's shooting match was held on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark "McDonald v. Chicago" decision, which holds that a person's constitutional right to keep and bear arms applies to states as well as to federal jurisdictions.

Just three days after Jerguson's event, a new state law (SB 308) took effect that did away with most of Georgia's provisions that previously determined where firearms could or could not legally be carried in public.

Under the new law, Georgia still bans the carrying of guns in churches, school property, nuclear power plants, bars without the owner's permission, government buildings, and mental health facilities, but the Supreme Court ruling could eventually knock out all of those restrictions as well.

Jerguson is a guy who really believes that people should carry guns. When his daughter had her fourth birthday, he gave her a pink, .22-caliber firearm. He said he would give the same weapon, only in blue, to his son when the boy turns four.

Even Jerguson, however, says it's probably not a bad idea to retain the restriction on carrying weapons in public buildings such as jails, courthouses, and the state capitol.

"Most would agree that's a reasonable restriction," he said. "I don't foresee that being changed."

Time may prove him to be wrong about that. Attorneys for the pro-gun group Georgia Carry have already indicated they'll go to court to challenge the restriction on bringing firearms to churches. Once they've knocked down that restriction, as they surely will, they'll go after the other few restrictions that are still on the books.

Within two or three years, I believe you will see people legally carrying handguns into school buildings where there are kindergarten classrooms, into jailhouses where dangerous criminals are being detained, and even into the Fulton County courthouse where just five years ago a Superior Court judge and his court reporter were gunned down and killed.

Laws that prohibit mentally deranged individuals and people with criminal records from buying handguns will most likely be swept off the books as well. If a court does not rule against the restrictions, then someone in the General Assembly will probably introduce a bill to do away with them.

Why stop there? One day, if you don't like the way your legislator voted on a particular bill, you may even be able to walk into the capitol fully armed and discuss the matter with him.

I'm not sure it's such a great idea to allow firearms in so many public places, but that is obviously where we are headed.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report. He can be reached at tcrawford@capitolimpact.net.

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