http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/ ... gguns.html By CARLOS CAMPOS The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Published on: 04/19/07 The mass shootings at Virginia Tech reached deep into the Georgia Legislature, squashing an expected vote this week on a proposal to expand access to firearms in motor vehicles. GOP insider politics also played a role in the demise of House Bill 89. But the shooting deaths of 32 people in Blacksburg, Va., chilled discussion of a bill that would have allowed motorists to hide firearms in their cars and leave them there in workplace parking lots. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said the Senate will not take up HB 89 this legislative session, scheduled to end Friday. "I think [the Virginia Tech attack] clearly was on the minds of every elected official," said Cagle. "You have the worst shooting in history â€” a very, very tragic situation. Although this particular bill did not specifically address that issue, it was an issue of concern, and the timing was clearly not right." HB 89 was a hybrid version of two bills, one sponsored by Rep. Timothy Bearden (R-Villa Rica) in the House, the other by Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) in the Senate. Bearden's bill would allow anyone eligible for a concealed weapons permit in Georgia â€” generally those without a criminal record or history of recent mental illness â€” to hide a firearm anywhere inside a motor vehicle. Current law requires that firearms be exposed to plain view or hidden in a glove box or center console. Portions of Rogers' Senate Bill 43 were rolled into Bearden's bill and essentially would allow employees to store firearms in their cars while parked at work. Property owners still would be allowed to ban firearms in their lots. But employers would be prohibited from searching their employees' cars unless they own the lot. The National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates argued the bills allowed motorists to defend themselves and their families on their commutes to work and while traveling roads and highways. The bill was already on shaky ground because it was splitting the Republican caucus. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill, saying employers should be able to set workplace rules. Other opponents also pitched it as a property rights issue, even though Rogers insisted on language in the bill that allowed parking lot owners to set their own rules. But Rogers agreed with Cagle Wednesday that it was time to let the bill die for this session. "It was not the appropriate time to be debating an issue like this," said Rogers, referring to Monday's campus shootings. The Senate put HB 89 on its agenda for Tuesday, the day after the shootings. But in the morning, the Republican Senate caucus met and expressed its wishes to adjourn without taking up the bill. The NRA, however, put enormous pressure on lawmakers throughout the day to pass the bill. The group strongly favored the SB 43 portion of the bill. It sent a top official from its Virginia headquarters to monitor the Senate's activities, wrote a letter to senators, and met with many individually. "HB 89 is NRA's top legislative priority this session in Georgia," read a passage in the letter from Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. "As such, NRA intends to closely monitor all aspects of this bill â€” including the scheduling of votes, hostile amendments, votes on final passage and any efforts to avoid voting on this issue." The letter also noted the bill would "carry significant weight in any future grade and endorsement decisions made by NRA's Political Victory Fund." A poor score on the NRA's legislative report card can make or break campaigns in parts of Georgia. An NRA spokesman did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment. Bearden was disappointed his bill got caught up in the fight over SB 43. He expressed sympathy for the victims of Monday's shootings. But he said greater access to firearms is crucial for people to defend themselves. "If one law-abiding citizen had access to a firearm on that campus," he said, "lives could've been saved." Cagle, president of the Senate, said he tried to work out a compromise between business and gun owners. But they couldn't find common ground. "At the end of the day I have no desire to bring a bill to the floor that's going to be this divisive if there's not sufficient votes," Cagle said. "And clearly, both sides could not come to an agreement and the votes were not there to pass the bill." Staff writer Jim Galloway contributed to this article.