By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed a broad expansion of gun carry rights into law on Wednesday, allowing legal gun owners to take weapons into bars, churches and government buildings under certain conditions.
The measure, due to take effect on July 1, also permits hunters to use silencers and authorizes schools to allow staff members to carry weapons on campus.
Critics said the law gives gun owners too much leeway, but the state's Republican governor said it will protect the constitutional right to bear arms for those with proper carry licenses.
"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," Deal said in a statement.
The Republican-controlled legislature, which passed the measure in March, opted not to allow gun owners to take weapons onto college campuses but approved firearms in bars unless the business owner objects and posts a sign at the door.
Churches can allow worshipers to bring guns to services under the law but are not required to do so. Previous Georgia law banned firearms from churches and bars.
The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police has mixed feelings about the new rights, said executive director Frank Rotondo. He fears police could have a tougher time responding to fights at bars.
"A lot of the country is looking at Georgia and thinking this bill went too far," Rotondo said.
State Senator Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter and Deal's likely Democratic challenger in the November general election, voted for the gun bill.
"I support the Second Amendment, and I appreciate how important this issue is to many people across Georgia," Carter said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Andrew Hay)