Georgia passes ‘campus carry’ bill legalizing guns at colleges

The Georgia Senate on Friday gave final passage to a bill that for the first time would legalize firearms on all public colleges in Georgia, following an emotional two-hour floor debate over the wisdom of letting students carry concealed guns on campus.

House Bill 859 now goes to the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal, who with a sweep of his pen can sign the measure into law.

The legislation would allow anyone 21 or older with a weapons license to carry a gun anywhere on a public college or university campus, except for inside dormitories, fraternities and sorority houses, and at athletic events.

HB 859 also would mandate that those weapons be concealed — something proponents say makes it safer — since Georgia requires gun owners to apply for gun “carry” permits that include fingerprinting and background checks.

If it becomes law, the bill would make Georgia the ninth state to allow campus carry, with nearly two dozen others allowing individual schools to decide. Supporters of the legislation have also linked their effort to the safety of students, noting events such as recent robberies at Georgia State University's downtown Atlanta campus library that is only steps from the state Capitol.

Allowing guns on campus, however, has long been opposed by the powerful University System of Georgia and leaders of the state’s universities and colleges over concerns about students’ maturity and safety on campus.