Gov. Nathan Deal signed a measure Thursday that would allow college students and others to carry concealed weapons on campus, despite vetoing similar legislation last year amid an uproar from gun control advocates.
The measure, known as the “campus carry” bill, would allow people with firearms permits to carry concealed guns onto public college and university campuses, and it has been long sought by conservatives and Second Amendment activists who cast it as a crucial safety measure for students, faculty and staff to protect themselves.
Deal nixed a similar gun measure last year after lawmakers defied his personal request for more exceptions to the expansion. His scathing veto invoked a 2008 opinion by then-Justice Antonin Scalia that described colleges as “sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed.”
In a statement, Deal said he signed the measure because it may have greater significance for students who are going to or from a campus and may have to travel through “dangerous territory.”
“At the present time, assailants can, and do, target these students knowing full well that their victims are not permitted to carry protection,” Deal said, “even those who are weapons carry license holders, because they are either going to or coming from a campus where no weapons are allowed.”
The governor said he was willing to reopen the debate this year as long as lawmakers acceded to his demands, and they struck a compromise that appeared to do just that. House Bill 280 is designed to bar guns from on-campus child care facilities, faculty and administrative office space, and disciplinary meetings.
Critics said that allowing guns on campus would create an unsafe environment and lead to more killings and suicides on campuses. They hoped an apparent grammatical error in the measure — a missing comma in one section — would scuttle the bill. And they tried to remind Deal of his veto at every turn.
“This flip-flop will be what Georgians remember about our governor for years to come – that he bent to the Washington gun lobby,” said Lindsey Donovan, who heads the Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “This will be the legacy he leaves behind.”
Still, there was little mystery about Deal’s decision. He had telegraphed for weeks that he was going to sign the legislation, often saying that it was “significantly different” from last year’s version of the bill.
“You have to give credit to them doing that. I had made some of these suggestions last year, and they were not heeded,” Deal said of the legislative compromise in a recent interview. “This year, not only did they take my suggestions, they added a few of their own.”
The governor’s office said the legislation would take effect July 1.