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Georgia lawmakers expand gun rights as medical marijuana bill dies

By Steve Norder

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Georgia lawmakers approved a watered-down expansion of gun carry rights, but an effort aimed at legalizing medical marijuana for children with severe seizure disorders failed on Thursday, the final day of the state's legislative session.

"We did nothing for kids, but we passed a gun bill," said Republican state Senator Fran Millar.

The gun measure passed by large margins in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate after a compromise was reached to save it in the session's waning hours.

Prompted by mass shootings across the country in recent years, state legislatures are considering hundreds of proposals to both limit and expand the rights of gun owners, while 20 states have legalized medical marijuana in various forms and others are considering doing so.

The Georgia measure, which now heads to the governor's desk, would under certain conditions allow guns in bars and churches, but not on college campuses. Bar owners who do not want weapons brought in would be required to post a sign at the door, while worshipers would not be allowed to bring firearms to church unless a congregation votes to opt-in to the law.

The legislation also would let hunters use silencers, known as suppressors, and give more leeway to gun owners with permits who forget they are carrying their weapons and attempt to go through an airport security screening.

Following the measure's 112-58 approval in the House, many members stood and applauded.

"For the past two years we've worked hard to improve the Second Amendment rights of Georgians," said Republican Representative Rick Jasperse, the House lead sponsor. "It has been a long and winding road."

Democratic Senator Vincent Fort decried the final measure, saying the original "carry everywhere bill" had been only slightly improved to become the "carry almost everywhere bill."

Critics raised questions about the legislation's wording that appeared to give felons a pass if they brought up Georgia's "stand your ground" in a self-defense claim. The law's proponents responded that people convicted of felonies are not allowed to have weapons.

The mother of a 5-year-old girl with epilepsy and cerebral palsy blamed "silly political games" for the legislature's failure to pass a measure that would have given kids who suffer seizures some medical relief through a marijuana extract.

Republican Representative Allen Peake had pushed for medical trials on the use of a non-intoxicating oil derived from the marijuana plant. That oil currently is being processed in Colorado, where it is called "Charlotte's Web."

"We were only asking not to be prosecuted for getting our child the medicine that she needs," the girl's mother, Sarah Caruso, said through tears after the session closed.

"We will be back, because there will be kids who will die during this year," she added. "I will be back with their pictures."

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Gunna Dickson)

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