Gov. Deal vetoes guns on college campuses because it wouldn't make students safer

To the dismay of many in his party, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the controversial campus carry  bill today.

Our AJC ace political writer Greg Bluestein reports Deal went up against General Assembly leadership in refusing to sign House bill 859, which was opposed by higher education leaders in the state and many students and their parents.

“If the intent of HB 859 is to increase safety of students on college campuses, it is highly questionable that such would be the result,” Deal wrote in his veto message.

Some parents told me they would not allow their kids to attend colleges where they could sit next to classmates with guns. Here is the AJC story. It's a tough political position for the governor who is crossing the Legislature and pro-gun forces in Georgia with this veto.

Here is the statement of Hank Huckaby, Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, on the veto:

We sincerely appreciate Gov. Deal’s veto of House Bill 859. 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. We look forward to presenting our campus safety report to the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House by August 1, 2016.

Among those praising Deal’s decision is Ed L. Schrader, president of private, not-for-profit Brenau University in Gainesville.  Schrader was an early signer among the 350 U.S. college and university presidents of a 2012 open letter to lawmakers in Washington and around the country urging immediate action to curb gun violence and reform gun safety laws.

Here is his statement:

 I sincerely appreciate Gov. Deal's courageous leadership, good common sense and serious concern for the welfare of all members of our college communities, students and staff. I have been vocally opposed to this idea since the first time it reared its head several years ago.

Along with every other college and university president in Georgia, I have continued to communicate that opposition to our legislators with every iteration of guns-on-campus legislation that has come up year after year in spite of overwhelming opposition by the people in this state. Some of the bills have had a direct impact on private colleges and universities, but all have deleterious consequences for higher education in Georgia and the rest of the United States.

I was born and raised in Mississippi in a gun-owning and hunting family, and we shot things – just not people or bald eagles. I believe that on a college campus, where students sometime receive grades the do not appreciate, classrooms and firearms are not a good mix. Also, social events common to most colleges, and sporting events where feelings and alcohol consumption run high, are not conducive to a highly armed population of party goers. There are many, many other reasons to oppose this kind of ill-conceived, unnecessary and potentially dangerous legislation. The one most compelling, however, is that time and again police and sheriff professionals comment that students with guns are much more likely to be shot than unarmed pedestrians, and they are often shot with their own guns taken away by a would-be robber.

Back to original blog:

In the next few hours, Gov. Nathan Deal has to decide whether to allow guns on the campuses and in the classrooms of Georgia's public colleges.

After the campus carry bill won easy victory in the General Assembly, Deal asked the Legislature to make common sense changes: amend House Bill 859 to ban guns from on-campus child care centers, faculty and administrative office space and disciplinary meetings.

House Speaker David Ralston and other leaders refused. The bill exempts dorms, frats and sporting events. So, fans and football players at games need to be safeguarded from firearms but 2-year-olds in campus day cares do not?

Deal has already angered conservatives with his veto of the religious liberty bill. So, the question is whether he will risk further alienation of an important GOP voting bloc.

Deal told the AJC:  “There’s no easy option."

The governor ought to have amended that statement to say, "There's no easy political option." Because this is a political battle, not a public safety one.

As the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus notes:

While mass shootings such as those that occurred at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University attract national attention, the fact is that in the universe of gun violence, America's colleges and universities are among the safest environments for students. Much safer than the communities that surround them. A U.S. Justice Department study found that 93% of violence against college students aged 18 to 24 occurs off campus . This statistic is due in no small part to the fact that virtually all colleges and universities prohibit or severely restrict firearm possession on campus.

Because Deal is a father and grandfather, I think he'll veto the campus carry. Across the state, faculty, students and parents are pleading with him to do so. And they are the Georgians who will have to live with the governor's decision, not the legislators seeking to placate the pro-guns-everywhere lobby.

What's your prediction -- veto or not?

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.