Local colleges react to veto of campus carry bill

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Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a bill Tuesday that would’ve allowed licensed gun owners to carry their weapons on college campuses.

House Bill 859, known as the campus carry bill, would have amended the Official Code of Georgia Annotated to give students 21 and older with the proper license the right to carry guns on campus and in buildings owned by any public technical school, vocational school, college, university or other postsecondary education institution, except for areas used for athletic events, dormitories and fraternity/sorority houses.

“From the early days of our nation and state, colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed,” Deal said in his veto statement. “To depart from such time-honored protections should require overwhelming justification. I do not find that such justification exists.”

Georgia Highlands College, part of the University System of Georgia, released an official statement from USG when asked to comment on the veto.

“We sincerely appreciate Gov. Deal’s veto of House Bill 859,” the statement said. “We recognize this was not an easy decision for the governor to make. The vast majority of our faculty, staff, parents and students are concerned about firearms on campus. As leaders of the University System of Georgia, we must provide the highest levels of safety and security to the 318,000 students we serve. The board of regents, our 29 presidents and campus police chiefs are fully committed to enhancing all aspects of our campus safety efforts across the university system.”

Chattahoochee Technical College referred media requests to the Technical College System of Georgia communications office, which also released a statement.

Deal cited several reasons for vetoing the legislation, including a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that established that the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, like most rights, is not unlimited; therefore, weapons could be forbidden in “sensitive places” like schools and government buildings.

“Since the right to keep and bear arms in sensitive places such as those enumerated in HB 859 is not guaranteed by the Second Amendment nor the Georgia Constitution, the inquiry should then focus on whether or not those places deserve to continue to be shielded from weapons as they are and have been for generations in our state,” Deal said in his statement.

The governor also cited “great historical precedent” for believing college campuses should remain free of guns — minutes from an Oct. 4, 1824, meeting that stated weapons were prohibited on the newly created University of Virginia campus, for example.

“That college campuses should be a ‘gun-free zone’ is a concept that has deep roots in Georgia as well,” he said. “In the 2014 session of the Georgia General Assembly, HB 60 was passed, and I signed it into law. That bill greatly expanded the areas where licensed gun owners could take their weapons. At that time, campus carry was considered but not adopted.”

Allowing guns on college campuses also would open the door for licensed gun owners who aren’t students to bring concealed weapons on campus.

“Since most, if not all, of our colleges are open campuses, this bill will allow any licensed gun owner to bring a concealed weapon onto the campus, and neither police nor other law enforcement personnel will be allowed to even ask the individual to produce evidence of his license,” Deal said.

As for students being able to protect themselves against criminal activity on campus, Deal said a “significant portion of the student body” would still be unarmed since only those 21 and older can legally carry a gun.

The governor said he understands the safety concerns of parents, students and the bill’s authors being the intent behind the legislation.

“They apparently believe that the colleges are not providing adequate security on their campuses and that civilian police are not doing so on the sidewalks, streets and parking lots students use as they go to and come from classes,” he said.

As a result, Deal issued an executive order directed to TCSG Commissioner Gretchen Corbin and USG Chancellor Hank Huckaby, requesting a report be submitted to him, the lieutenant governor and the House speaker by Aug. 1 as to what security measures each college within their respective systems has in place.

He also called on city and county leaders and law enforcement agencies in these college towns to “review and improve, if necessary, their security measures in areas surrounding these colleges.”

“Since each of these municipalities and counties receive significant revenue by virtue of the location of these colleges in their jurisdictions, I believe it is appropriate that they be afforded extra protections,” he said.