Campus gun bill returns to Georgia House

Georgia lawmakers will again consider legislation that would allow guns on college campuses after Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a similar measure last year.

State Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, on Tuesday filed legislation in the Georgia House that would allow anyone with a permit to carry concealed weapons to take a firearm to the state’s public colleges and universities.

Deal rejected the 2016 bill after he asked House and Senate leaders to specifically exempt on-campus child care facilities, faculty or administrative office space, and disciplinary meetings. Lawmakers refused and Deal sent a message back.

Ballinger’s new bill would exempt child care facilities but otherwise is the same as the 2016 measure. Whether it satisfies Deal’s concerns remains to be seen. A spokesman for the University System of Georgia, while not taking a specific position on Ballinger’s bill said, “We support current state law.”

Deal’s office declined to comment Tuesday, but the governor in January would not rule out supporting a campus gun bill this year. In an interview last month, Deal said he hasn’t closed the door on the measure this year — as long as it contains some of the changes he wanted.

“I’m not going to prejudge anything because I want to see what legislation they present,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Ballinger said she considered Deal’s other concerns, especially whether guns should be allowed in professors’ offices or in administrative or disciplinary hearings. But after studying both issues, Ballinger said, she decided critics’ concerns were overblown.

“We need to permit people to defend themselves,” she said.

Supporters say those with weapons permits already have to be at least 21 years old and pass a background check. Opponents have long said that guns have no place on campuses where young adults are often in high-pressure situations and where alcohol and drugs are often used.

“Last year I was proud to support Governor Deal as he vetoed legislation that would make Georgia campuses less safe,” Lindsey Donovan, the head of the Georgia Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “I hope that our legislators will agree with Governor Deal and countless Georgia families who know that guns on campus is not a Second Amendment issue. This is about the safety of our college campuses and ensuring that students in classrooms can focus on their studies — without having to worry that the student next to them will open fire.”

But John Monroe, a vice president of Georgia Carry, one of the most influential gun rights groups in the state, said Ballinger’s bill does nothing more than allow “law-abiding citizens to exercise their constitutional rights to defend themselves by carrying weapons ‘in case of confrontation.’ ”

That right was reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller, Monroe said.

“Representative Ballinger’s bill would be a significant step forward for Georgians,” he said.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.

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