State Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, is the sponsor of House Bill 280, which would allow guns on most parts of public university and college campuses. The bill was amended Thursday in the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow the legislation to proceed while also giving lawmakers more time to negotiate with Gov. Nathan Deal, who vetoed a similar measure last year. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Senate committee adds key exemption to Georgia’s ‘campus carry’ gun bill

A bill to allow firearms on Georgia’s public college and university campuses was amended Thursday to exempt areas on some campuses where high schoolers attend class.

The move by the Senate Judiciary Committee effectively allows House Bill 280 to move forward while also giving lawmakers more time to negotiate with Gov. Nathan Deal over a possible compromise.

The action came as the bill was added only 2 1/2 hours before the committee’s previously posted 4 p.m. agenda, which eventually included 20 bills. The committee took a party line vote of 5-3 on the campus gun bill at 7:50 p.m., as the bill was the last heard by the committee in the meeting.

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State Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, who is sponsoring this year’s bill, has repeatedly made the argument that students have a right to protect themselves in a legal manner on campus just as they can off it. She did so again Thursday, saying the legislation only applies to students 21 years and older. And to qualify for a concealed carry permit, they are required to be fingerprinted and pass a background check.

Critics of the campus gun bill say the legislation could potentially create unsafe environments for students and faculty.

As he did when the bill was being considered in the House, Steve Wrigley, the chancellor of the University System of Georgia, told committee members he did not want it. The system, he said, has prioritized campus safety to address any concerns supporters of the bill may have, including adding public safety officers and new security technology.

All the handful of people who testified Thursday said they opposed the bill, with several saying the late addition of it to the agenda caught them by surprise.

The change made to the bill is directed at students who attend high schools such as state college and career academies that are located on a handful of technical college campuses across Georgia.

It would not apply to the surrounding campus, but just to the buildings that house the ninth- through 12th-graders.

It is not clear, however, that it would include all campuses where high school students are taking class as part of general dual-enrollment programs.

The state House passed HB 280 two weeks ago. A committee change in the Senate prolongs the bill’s path toward final passage, since the House would need to agree or seek a conference committee to work out details.

The measure would allow those 21 and older with a Georgia weapons permit to carry concealed weapons on most parts of college campuses, not including dormitories, sorority and fraternity houses, athletic events and on-campus child care centers.

Deal vetoed a similar measure last year, and he has signaled that he would prefer additional exemptions to the bill that include faculty and administrative office space as well as disciplinary hearings. 

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