This legislative session, Georgia lawmakers pushed forward two separate bills regarding weapons on college campuses in the State, House Bill 859 regarding guns and House Bill 792 allowing stun guns on campus.
On March 11, 2016, the state Senate passed House Bill 859 and it now awaits action by Governor Nathan Deal. If the Governor signs it, or if he does not veto it within 40 days after the end of the legislative session on March 24, 2016, it becomes law on the bill’s effective date, July 1.
The legislation would allow anyone 21 or older with a weapons license to carry a gun concealed “in any building or on real property owned by or leased to any public technical school, vocational school, college, or university, or other public institution of postsecondary education.”
However, this right to carry does not extend to student housing, fraternities and sorority houses, and buildings or property used for sporting events.
HB 859 mandates that those weapons be concealed — something proponents say makes it safer — since Georgia requires gun owners to apply for gun “carry” permits that require fingerprinting and background checks.
“This bill is about personal safety and the ability of Georgians to defend themselves as needed,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper.
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. Hank Huckaby, the chancellor of the University System of Georgia, testified to that effect before a Senate committee.
“Campus police will tell you allowing students to have firearms on campus makes their jobs extremely challenging, especially in an emergency,” Huckaby said.
Supporters, however, said eight states allow campus carry, and nearly two dozen others allow individual schools to decide. They have also linked their effort to the safety of students, noting events such as recent robberies at Georgia State University’s downtown Atlanta campus library.
“We heard from a lot of Georgia State and Georgia Tech students who commute and they park 10 blocks from campus and walk through a very bad area of the city, and I challenge people to do a tour and walk the perimeter of the campus at night, 10 or 11 at night, and let’s see if you like that,” said state Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, who co-sponsored the bill. “I think it’s empowering to people both on and off campus to be able to not be a victim, and that’s why we’re pushing the legislation.”
Efforts to legalize guns on campus have a long history at the Capitol. The most recent attempt came in 2014, when the state House voted to legalize campus carry as part of a broader effort dubbed the “Guns Everywhere Bill.” The Senate, however, stripped the campus carry language out of the bill before passage. However, this time, the legislation had the backing from top leaders of both chambers of the Legislature.
On March 16, Governor Deal issued a statement urging legislators to reconsider several aspects of the campus carry measure. The Republican prefaced his message by touting his record as a “lifetime defender and staunch supporter of Second Amendment rights.” But he expressed concerns over the safety of pre-k, elementary, and high school kids who attend classes or day care on college grounds. Deal added that he believes discretion should be given to faculty as to whether or not guns are allowed in disciplinary hearings and in faculty members’ offices.
Though Deal didn’t explicitly threaten a veto, the statement suggests that he might — an indication that even for a governor who signed a law that removed restrictions on bringing guns into bars, churches, and some government buildings, the prospect of college students stuffing firearms into their backpacks before heading to class needs further consideration.
“Addressing these issues is an important step in ensuring the safety and freedoms of students, faculty and staff in our institutions of higher learning throughout our state,” the statement reads.
The gist of House Bill 859 is to keep colleges and universities from violating concealed permit holders’ Second Amendment rights by prohibiting collegiate governing bodies from banning guns on campus. Deal wants this changed so that governing boards preserve some ability to ban guns, specifically in disciplinary hearings, administrative offices, and on-campus daycare facilities.
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston says the House will not pass changes to the bill. He went on to say that these changes are not going to happen because they are the equivalent of “gutting” the “entire intent” of HB 859, according to a March 21 article from the Associated Press.
Moreover, Ralston said, “Deal didn’t share his concerns about weapons being brought into day cares, disciplinary hearings or office space until the bill had passed,” so he believes the Governor’s time for making changes has passed.
The legislative session ended at midnight, March 24, with no action being taken by the legislature to address any of Deal’s issues the bill. So it is now up to Deal as to whether he will accept the bill as written and signs it or reject it and vetoes it. He has until May 3 to act. If he does nothing, the bill will automatically become law.
Not to be deterred by the Governor’s reluctance to sign the bill allowing guns on campus, on Thursday, March 24, 2016, the last day of the legislative session, the Georgia Legislature passed House Bill 792 to authorize the carrying, possession, and use of electroshock weapons by persons who are students or who are employed at a public institution of postsecondary education.
The bill now goes to Governor Nathan Deal for his signature to become law. If he signs the bill, any student 18 years or older currently enrolled in classes at state colleges would be allowed to carry electroshock weapons, including stun guns and Tasers, as a method of personal protection.
This bill is different from the “campus carry” bill (House Bill 859), which would allow carry permit holders to carry firearms on college campuses.
It may be argued that the nonlethal weapons were a “middle ground” in the debate about campus carry. “Even if campus carry were allowed not everybody is going to want to carry a gun,” the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Buzz Brockway told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “this would just be a different level of personal protection for students.”
This bill has been nicknamed “campus carry lite.”
There has been no comment from the Governor’s office regarding whether he will sign HB 792. Again, the Governor has until May 3 to either sign, do nothing, or veto the bill.
On March 24, the Georgia Legislature approved HB 1060 and sent it on the Governor for signature.
HB 1060 makes several meaningful changes to Georgia gun laws, including:
- Providing licensees of states with reciprocal agreements with Georgia a 90 day grace period to obtain a GWL while continuing to carry legally using their previous states’ license;
- Prohibiting a probate judge from suspending, extending, delaying, or avoiding the process of the GWL application;
- Protecting any firearms instructor who lawfully instructs, educates, or trains a person in the safe, proper, or technical use of a firearm from civil liability for any injuries caused by the failure of such person to use such firearm properly or lawfully.
There has been no response from the Governor’s office regarding this bill. Again, he has until May 3 to either sign, do nothing, or veto the bill. If he does nothing, the bill will automatically become law.