Governor Deal Vetoes Georgia Campus Carry Bill, Says It Is Unjustified

Republican Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal/ wikimedia

Republican Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal/ wikimedia

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the state’s proposed “campus carry” legislation on Tuesday.

Bill HB 859 would have allowed licensed holders to carry handguns on all public college or university campuses and buildings, except structures used for student housing or sporting events.

The Republican leader argued, “colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed. To depart from such time-honored protections should require overwhelming justification. I do not find that such justification exists.”

Deal urged lawmakers to pass restrictions to the bill, expressing concern at the lack of consideration toward children in on-campus daycares, high school students taking college-level courses and students attending disciplinary hearings. Members of the General Assembly refused to follow up on his suggestions.

Deal referenced a U.S. Supreme Court case in his lengthy remarks, quoting the late Justice Antonin Scalia, “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on…laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings…”

He went back nearly two centuries to cite the minutes of an 1824 Board of Visitors meeting at the University of Virginia, saying it was “perhaps the most enlightening evidence” supporting the prohibition of guns on college campuses. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were in attendance that day.

“Under the rules relating to the conduct of students, it provided that ‘No student shall, within the precincts of the University, introduce, keep or use any spirituous or venomous liquors, keep or use weapons or arms of any kind…’ “, Deal wrote.

The controversial bill was opposed by colleges and universities across the state as well as The University System of Georgia, the regulatory body that governs the state’s 29 public institutions.

Chancellor Hank M. Huckaby told the House Judiciary Committee the proposal would only complicate matters for campus police.

“Our campus police officers will tell you that allowing students to have firearms on campus makes their job extremely challenging, particularly if an extreme emergency were to occur,” he said.

The System issued a statement following news of the veto.

“The vast majority of our faculty, staff, parents and students are concerned about firearms on campus. As leaders of the University System of Georgia, we must provide the highest levels of safety and security to the 318,000 students we serve,” the statement read.

The decision was met with disappointment from conservatives and gun rights lobbyists.

Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston released a written response to the Governor’s decision.

“At a time when our Second Amendment rights are under attack, I believed and still believe that it is very important that we do all that is necessary and proper to strengthen our constitutional protections. Georgians should not be required to give up their constitutional rights when they set foot on a college campus,” Ralston wrote.

The National Rifle Association chimed in to express gratitude to lawmakers for their efforts to protect Second Amendment rights.

“The NRA is thankful to Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and the legislators who worked to protect law-abiding citizens’ constitutional right to self-defense on campus, and we look forward to working with them next session to pass this important safety legislation,” NRA Spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said.

Still, state Democrats and anti-gun groups were quick to praise the conservative governor.

“I commend the governor for vetoing the bill. We pointed out many flaws in this piece of legislation during the session and hope that this will put the matter the rest,” said Steve Henson, Senate minority leader.

Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action leader Lindsey Donovan applauded the governor’s non-partisan leadership.

“This veto is thanks to thousands of Georgians who have spoken out and rallied against guns on campus. The leadership shown by Governor Deal with this veto should stand as proof to other elected officials that this is not a partisan issue and that they, too, can stand up to the gun lobby. I’m thrilled that our voices were heard and that the will of the gun lobby no longer goes unchecked in the state of Georgia.”

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