A measure to allow guns onto any campus in Georgia's public college and university system passed the Georgia Senate on Tuesday, a crucial vote to keep it alive in the final days of the legislative session.
“Frequently, invisible lines distinguish our college and university campuses from other properties — but we should never allow these overlapping boundaries to deny us our constitutional rights,” Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said immediately after the vote. “This thoughtful compromise protects the fundamental right to lawfully carry, which belongs to all Georgians.”
House Bill 280 would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms on public college and university campuses, with exceptions that include dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses, and buildings used for athletic events. On-campus child care centers would also be excluded, as would areas on some college campuses where high school students attend class.
Its passage was one of the key moments on the second-to-last day of the legislative session, when scores of bills were considered by the state House and Senate.
This is the fifth year in a row the Legislature has considered such a measure. Last year's legislation got as far as Gov. Nathan Deal's desk before he vetoed it, citing concerns that it was both too broad and that campuses have historically been gun-free to promote learning. Deal has also called for excluding campus discipline hearings and administrative and professor offices from the proposal, but lawmakers so far have not added those exclusions.
With just two days left in this year’s legislative session, officials say lawmakers are negotiating with Deal’s office over a potential compromise before the session is gaveled to a close Thursday.
Supporters say allowing guns on campus would give students a chance to protect themselves without interfering with their peers, since the bill requires their weapon to be concealed. It is an added measure, they say, to counter criminals who may also bring a gun onto campus.
Georgia law requires anyone seeking a state permit to carry a concealed gun to be at least 21 years old. They must be fingerprinted and pass a background check.
Still, critics say allowing guns on campus would create an unsafe environment for students and faculty. They've also cited national studies including one released last fall by the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health that concluded the presence of guns would likely lead to more shootings, killings and suicides on campus, especially among students.
Among concerns brought up Tuesday by opponents included a question of where students would keep their guns stored while on campus, and whether allowing guns onto campus property creates an additional safety issue since thousands of school-age children visit college campuses every year to attend events such as summer camps or academic programs.
"Maybe Georgians just don't think 21-year-old kids should be running into the Salamander Ramble with a firearm," said state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta. The ramble, she added, is "just one of the camps and activities at the University of Georgia in which more than 150,000 small children each year come onto campus. And that's just at UGA. When they send their little ones off to the UGA bug camp, parents probably think the most dangerous thing their kid will encounter is the proboscis of the Eastern mosquito, not the barrel of a gun"
With the 32-22 vote, the bill goes back to the House for review. With time running short in the session, many at the Capitol expect the House to disagree and send the bill into final negotiations involving a conference committee.
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