Update: NRA blasts Nathan Deal's 'campus carry' concerns

Update 4:37 p.m.: The National Rifle Association  has weighed in with some harsh words for Gov. Nathan Deal. In an e-mailed statement, the powerful gun-rights lobbying group said:

"Governor Deal’s newfound concerns about this critical campus safety bill are baffling. Two weeks ago he said the existing argument against it ‘lacks validity.’  The evidence is clear, students are safer on campuses that allows law-abiding gun owners to protect themselves and their fellow students. We are urging our members and supporters in Georgia to contact Governor Deal and respectfully express their support for this campus safety bill.” – Catherine Mortensen, NRA Spokesperson

The NRA's statement opens a rift between the gun rights group and the governor it supported in his 2014 re-election campaign. The group spent at least $610,000 on radio and TV ads, mailers and a phone bank backing Deal over former Atlanta state Sen. Jason Carter.

It also contributed at least $2,500 directly to his campaign, and praised him over the years for his stance on gun legislation, including his decision in 2014 to sign the so-called “guns everywhere” bill expanding where permitted gun owners can take their weapons.

Original post: Gov. Nathan Deal's call for changes to a gun bill that's already passed has left lawmakers and advocates scratching their heads and scrambling for a path forward.

The governor issued a statement late Monday calling on lawmakers to make revisions to a plan to allow licensed weapons-permit holders to carry guns onto college campuses. That bill, House Bill 859, has already passed the House and Senate, meaning it cannot be changed before it reaches Deal's desk.

Of course, there are other vehicles that could be used to accomplish the governor's goals, which include exempting on-campus child care centers from campus carry legislation and a push for lawmakers to address his concerns about high school students who are joint-enrolled in college courses on campuses that allow firearms.

Several minor gun bills are moving in both the House and Senate, and they could be amended with some of the gun changes.

Two questions on lawmakers' minds Tuesday, however, were: What exactly is the governor asking for? And why now?

Deal, facing a phalanx of reporters Tuesday, said the timing seemed right for his call for a gun bill overhaul.

"Well, because this is the first time I’ve had the chance to speak about it," he said when asked why he waited until after the legislation reached his desk to press for changes to it. "I never knew what the final version of the bill would be."

But he was more circumspect about what specific fixes he sought. He said he likely wouldn't detail to lawmakers how to make the changes he seeks, saying he's "a little reluctant to try to tell them how to draft legislation."

The best route, he said, could be giving higher education officials more flexibility to draft their own rules and regulations.

"Some of the areas are difficult to legislatively fix," said Deal. "And some of those areas may be more appropriately left to institutions by rule and regulations to draft those restrictions rather than try to put it in a statute, which is not flexible at all."

When pressed for more specifics, he said lawmakers need to give a "more thorough look" to high school students taking college classes.

"It may not be possible to actually totally shield them, but we are protecting them as long as they are in a K-12 setting," he said. "When they leave that setting to go into a technical college or university, if it has a different setting with regard to the presence of weapons, then that is my concern."

Lawmakers, lobbyists and advocates on both sides of the gun debate wonder whether Deal hopes to make any college that hosts a dual-enrollment program exempt from campus carry. It's an important distinction because if that's what the governor wants, House leaders are unlikely to go along.

Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, made clear in his own statement that with just three days left in the legislative session after today, the governor must offer specific recommendations. Asked Tuesday about the time crunch, Deal said there's still plenty of time to hash out a solution.

"I know people say well, you’ve only got a few days left," he said. "But that’s a lifetime in the legislative process."

Lawmakers face a hard deadline of midnight next Thursday - the final day of the 40-day legislative session - to make the changes. If they fail to meet the governor's demands, as ambiguous as they may be, Deal said he won't rule out a veto.

"I can’t answer the question about a veto," he said. "I’m going to wait and see what the final product of the total package will be."

For a closer look at guns in the state, visit Armed Georgia

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