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Tougher penalties clear Senate panel
WASHINGTON – In Congress’ first gun votes since the Newtown, Conn., nightmare, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to toughen federal penalties against illegal firearms purchases, even as senators signaled that a deep partisan divide remained over gun curbs.
The Democratic-led panel voted 11-7 to impose penalties of up to 25 years for people who legally buy firearms but give them to someone else for use in a crime or to people legally barred from acquiring weapons. The panel’s top Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, cast the only GOP vote for the measure.

Georgia weighs guns for mentally ill

– While some states push to tighten gun control laws after the Connecticut school massacre, lawmakers in gun-friendly Georgia want to ease rules that prohibit some mentally ill people from getting licenses to carry firearms.

Legislators in Georgia’s House voted 117-56 on Thursday to allow people who have voluntarily sought inpatient treatment for mental illness or substance abuse to get licenses.

The same bill would force officials to check on whether applicants have received involuntary treatment in the past five years before issuing licenses.

Georgia also may change its laws to allow people to carry guns in churches, bars and on college campuses, contrary to what’s happening elsewhere in the United States.

Judges in Georgia now have discretion over whether to grant a license to carry a weapon to anyone who has received inpatient treatment at a mental hospital or substance abuse treatment center in the last five years, whether it’s voluntary or not.

“Simply being hospitalized doesn’t make a person a criminal or a threat,” said Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, the bill sponsor, in a statement. The legislation now heads to the state Senate.

Democrats resisted the proposal, although they conceded it would likely pass in the GOP-dominated House of Representatives.

One prosecutor said he was concerned about distinguishing between voluntary and involuntary treatment.

“My concern would be there’s got to be people who voluntarily seek inpatient treatment who wouldn’t be any less dangerous than if they’re sent there involuntarily,” Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said Wednesday.

Federal law prohibits giving or selling guns to anyone who judged to be “mentally defective” or those committed to a mental institution. States set their own standards on who can carry weapons.

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