ATLANTA – Gov. Nathan Deal signed legislation Thursday allowing people with permits to carry concealed handguns on Georgia's public college campuses, despite the objections of state university leaders and his own veto of a campus-carry measure last year.
Deal shocked fellow Republicans with the tone of last year's veto message, which referenced opposition to guns on the University of Virginia campus by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and an opinion by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia that described schools as "sensitive places" under the Second Amendment.
The governor signed this year's version without a public ceremony, explaining in a written message released Thursday evening that he was swayed by the addition of campus locations where concealed handguns won't be allowed.
These include on-campus preschools, faculty or administrative offices, disciplinary hearings and areas attended by high school students who take college classes.
"These excluded areas represent the most 'sensitive places' on a college campus," Deal wrote. "It is altogether appropriate that weapons not be allowed in these areas. I appreciate the thoughtful consideration given by the General Assembly in expanding these excluded areas within a college campus in this year's bill."
Carrying handguns remains prohibited inside dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses, and buildings used for athletic events.
The law, which was opposed by leaders of the state's university system, becomes effective on July 1.
Georgia requires people to be at least 21 — or at least 18 with proof of basic training or active service in the military — to receive a concealed carry permit. Applicants must provide fingerprints, which are used by state agencies to check for criminal records, and clear an additional federal background check.
Supporters say people must be able to protect themselves while traveling to and from campus or within school grounds. But faculty and student groups worry the change will make Georgia's campuses less appealing for those considering other options for school or work.
School presidents and police chiefs at the University System of Georgia's 28 institutions uniformly opposed the measure, warning that it would make campus security more difficult.
In a message to those campus leaders on Thursday, system Chancellor Steve Wrigley said administrators will provide guidance on implementing the new law.
"We recognize that many have strong feelings about this new law," Wrigley wrote. "It is important that we all work together across our campuses to implement the new law appropriately and continue to provide a top-quality education to our students. "
Advocacy groups accused Deal of capitulating to the National Rifle Association, which held its annual convention last week in downtown Atlanta. While campus-carry has been a top priority for the GOP-controlled legislature for several years, the governor is term-limited and plans to retire when his time in office ends next year.
"This flip-flop will be what Georgians remember about our Governor for years to come - that he bent to the Washington gun lobby that came to town for a couple of days for a convention, rather than listening to his own constituents and campus stakeholders," said Lindsey Donovan, a volunteer with the anti-gun violence group Moms Demand Action. "This will be the legacy he leaves behind."
Georgia joins nine other states that allow concealed weapons to be carried on campuses.