Georgia colleges must now implement concealed handgun law

Georgia's public university presidents and police chiefs were strongly opposed to letting people carry concealed handguns on college campuses. Now that Gov. Nathan Deal has signed the campus-carry law, it falls on them to figure out how to implement it before the next school year begins.

Deal's strenuous objections to guns on campus in a veto message the year before had many Georgians hoping the outgoing Republican governor, who is term-limited and plans to retire next year, would issue another veto.

But Deal said in a written message released Thursday evening that he was swayed by exclusions that lawmakers wrote into House Bill 280, adding places on campus where even people with state-issued permits won't be allowed to carry concealed handguns.

These include preschools, faculty or administrative offices, disciplinary hearings and areas where high schoolers take 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."

Other places where concealed handguns remain prohibited include dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses and buildings used for athletic events.

In a message to leaders of the University System of Georgia's 28 institutions, Chancellor Steve Wrigley said administrators will provide guidance on implementing the law, which becomes effective July 1.

"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."

Campus leaders have said that allowing concealed handguns will make it much more difficult for officers to maintain security in extreme situations.

Now they'll need to develop new protocols, since every campus is a collection of places where the prohibitions may or may not apply. Violations by "weapons carry license holders" are misdemeanors, punishable by $25 fines and no jail time.

Georgia joins nine other states that allow concealed weapons to be carried on campuses. Permit-holders must be at least 21 — or at least 18 with proof of basic training or active service in the military. Applicants must provide fingerprints for a criminal record check, and undergo 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 Georgia's campuses will be less appealing for those considering other options for school or work.

Deal had 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.

In signing this year's bill, advocacy groups accused Deal of capitulating to the National Rifle Association, which held its annual convention last week in downtown Atlanta.

"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."