Senate panel delays action on bill legalizing guns on Georgia campuses

A bill legalizing firearms on Georgia’s college campuses got a full hearing Wednesday in committee, but a key Senate panel delayed action until next week on an effort to allow Georgia’s college students carry guns.

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

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, had questions about the bill, including how colleges would handle campus disciplinary hearings if guns were allowed and whether weapons would still be allowed at music concerts held on campus (as they would be under the bill).

Thirty-nine people also testified for nearly three hours, both for and against a bill that its sponsor, state Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, has informally dubbed the state’s “Campus Safety Act.” He has called it “a real world solution to a real world problem” to address student safety on campus.

Supporters often note that eight states allow campus carry, and nearly two dozen others allow individual schools to decide.

In Georgia, however, allowing guns on campus 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 —concerns echoed by those opposed to the bill Wednesday. A majority of speakers — 30 people — spoke against the bill at the hearing.

The Senate committee is expected to meet next week to vote on the bill, and is likely to make changes if members decide to move forward.

The bill passed the state House last week on a 113-59 vote, following a limited debate in committee when the chairman of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee unexpectedly added the bill to his panel’s agenda with little notice.

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