- Associated Press - Sunday, May 4, 2014

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - Visitors to the Old Courthouse on Wright Square will soon have to pass through a metal detector installed in response to Georgia’s expanded gun law that takes effect July 1.

The metal detector placed on April 24 in the front entrance of the building was borrowed at no cost from the Chatham County Courthouse on Montgomery Street. Officials are considering buying new equipment to beef up security at other county facilities as well.

“It deals with the new gun bill the governor signed into law,” said Assistant County Manager Michael Kaigler. “We’re going to start screening individuals who come into the buildings.”

On April 17, Savannah aldermen approved the purchase of a metal detector and two X-ray scanners for $53,987, in addition to two turnstiles for $7,750, to be installed at Savannah City Hall. The city, too, has been testing a metal detector on loan from the county courthouse.

However, the city’s security enhancements were in the works long before Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 60 into law on April 23.

“Improving security at public buildings has been a project we’ve been working on for several years now,” said city spokesman Bret Bell. “It started with adding security guards to our public buildings about five years ago, and then we added surveillance cameras to our buildings.”

In December, a 61-year-old Tybee Island man was arrested after authorities said he brought a loaded gun to a City Council meeting. Tybee Island currently does not have a metal detector at city hall, but a police officer is now stationed at meetings.

Meanwhile, local businesses are also making preparations for what’s to come.

Patrons of Pinkie Master’s Lounge, one of Savannah’s best-known watering holes, should be prepared to keep their weapons out of the establishment, says owner Guy Kirk.

“I don’t care how smart you are, alcohol changes peoples’ attitudes,” said Kirk, who on Wednesday put up “absolutely no firearms on property” signs. “I don’t care if you’re a cop. It changes your mind.”

Among other provisions of the Safe Carry Protection Act - labeled the “guns everywhere” bill by opponents - licensed carriers, under some circumstances, will be allowed to take their firearms into bars, churches, schools and airports. But private property owners may declare their premises off-limits to guns, and firearms will remain prohibited inside government buildings that screen for weapons.

Violators, according to the law, cannot be arrested or fined more than $100 if they have a valid permit.

“This legislation will protect the constitutional rights of Georgians who have gone through a background check to legally obtain a Georgia Weapons Carry License,” Deal said in a statement when he signed the bill. “Roughly 500,000 Georgia citizens have a permit of this kind, which is approximately 5 percent of our population.”

Passage of the sweeping legislation gained national attention.

But a number of groups, including police, municipal and religious organizations, opposed the legislation on various grounds.

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