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King family: MLK statue bill clashes with guns, healthcare policy

It's rare to see both Bernice King and Martin Luther King III together outside of a courtroom. It's rarer still to see them standing on either side of Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.

That's the scene that unfolded Tuesday as Deal signed legislation that would put a statue of the civil rights icon on the statehouse grounds. But the event quickly took on political undertones.   VIEW PHOTOS FROM THE LEGISLATION SIGNING

King's heir raised questions about the broad expansion of gun rights that Deal signed into law last week, and invoked the mass shooting at the FedEx center in Kennesaw. And the successor to King's pulpit blasted the governor's refusal to expand Medicaid as an "offensive contradiction" to the leader's legacy.

The legislation, House Bill 1080, requires that the state put the civil rights icon's statue on the capitol grounds or another prominent place. One potential is the new park to be built across the street, another is the site where the homage to segregationist Tom Watson once stood.

"Not many states can boast a native son who merited a national holiday, but we Georgians can," said Deal. "Dr. King is a point of pride for our state, and he deserves to hold a place of honor on our Capitol grounds."

Yet the shootings gave the event a somber tone. King III said the violence showed why Georgia's gun rights expansion is dangerous. Said King III:

"The more guns that we have acquired, the higher our violence seems to go. Why we continue to go in that direction is certainly of  concern. It's going to be challenging when civilians have guns and the police come and they try to create order ... It's a bit unfortunate to mandate a policy to say you can have guns in schools, bars and churches but you can't bring them into the Capitol. To me that seems a little inconsistent."

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, recently arrested at the statehouse as part of a Moral Monday protest, had harsher words on Deal's refusal to expand Medicaid. The pastor, who head's King's Ebenezer Baptist Church, King would have fought for the expansion of Medicaid under President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul. Said Warnock:

“We are grateful for the monument. But Dr. King’s work has to do not with the building of monuments but with the building of a better world where everyone has healthcare. Dr. King deserves this monument. But I would call it a glaring and offensive contradiction to sign into law a monument in memory of Dr. King and deny healthcare for whom Dr. King died.”

Deal, for his part, would brook no debate on either issue. When asked about the critiques after the signing, he offered this:

“I want to focus on the piece of legislation that we sign today and that’s why I was here for that purpose. What has become law in other signings, I don’t think has relevance to this event.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.