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Local lawmakers voice understanding but disappointment in Deal's campus carry veto
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Gov. Nathan Deal has blocked a push to allow anyone with a permit to carry concealed handguns on Georgia campuses.

The Republican governor said Tuesday that he has vetoed the so-called “campus carry” bill, which would have allowed anyone age 21 and over to carry a concealed handgun on campus with the proper permit.

Deal had previously voiced his concern for on-campus day care centers and dually-enrolled students when asking the legislature to reconsider the language of the bill.

Deal also vetoed a separate measure allowing people to carry weapons and long guns inside churches without penalty. It would have amended state law, which currently bans guns in churches, to say that people who carry weapons into church would not be in violation of the law as long as they leave the church when told to do so.

Deal signed a broad law two years ago expanding locations where weapons can be carried. He said this year’s proposal “breaches a compromise” from that time. Houses of worship should be protected places, free of weapons, he said.

Supporters of the campus carry measure have said allowing students who have passed background checks to carry concealed handguns on campus would help make the environment safer and serve as a deterrent for increased gun violence.

State Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville said he understood Deal’s position even though he supported the bill “because of Second Amendment rights.”

“(Deal is) looking out for the welfare of all involved,” Hawkins said.

Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville, also said he respected the governor’s decision even if he disagreed.

“He’s elected by the people to make this decision, and as the governor that’s his right,” Dunahoo said. “However, I’m very disappointed as a law-abiding citizen with my Second Amendment rights.”

Dunahoo said the screening process for receiving a concealed carry permit is strenuous and that because it is limited to individuals 21 and older, that means the number of students on campus with guns would be inherently limited, and not likely include anyone living in a dormitory.

Sen. Butch Miller, who voted in favor of the bill, said one of its flaws that led to the veto was that it didn’t provide schools with an opt-out provision.

“If a campus wants to be gun-free, this bill takes that ability away,” he said.

Deal offered a lengthy, written veto message, citing legal precedents and even harking back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in 1824, and their stance opposing guns on the University of Virginia campus.

He also referred to a U.S. Supreme Court opinion by recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. Deal said Scalia wrote that schools and government buildings should be considered “sensitive places” under the Second Amendment.

“From the early days of our nation and state, colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed,” Deal said. “To depart from such time-honored protections should require overwhelming justification. I do not find that such justification exists.”

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston said he was disappointed by his fellow Republican’s veto, but added that it’s not the end of the discussion.

“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,” he said in a written statement. “Georgians should not be required to give up their constitutional rights when they set foot on a college campus.”

Other states have drawn praise and criticism for similar decisions, including Texas, where a prominent dean at the University of Texas left the school due to a new law effective Aug. 1 that will allow concealed handguns in school buildings and in classrooms.

Nine states currently have laws on the books allowing concealed handguns on campus, including: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.

National Rifle Association spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen issued a statement from the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action that said, “It is unfortunate that Gov. Deal vetoed a bill that would have made Georgia campuses safer for his constituents. The NRA is thankful to Lt. Gov. 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.”

According the National Conference of State Legislatures, 23 states leave the decision to ban or allow weapons up to the individual colleges and universities, and 18 states — still including Georgia — currently ban concealed weapons on campuses.

Opponents have cited costs for increased safety measures and the impact it would have on higher education.

Deal’s veto was met with both applause and mixed emotions at universities in Gainesville.

Brenau University President Dr. Ed L. Schrader has been outspoken on the issue for several years.

“I sincerely appreciate Gov. Deal’s courageous leadership, good common sense and serious concern for the welfare of all members of our college communities, students and staff,” he said. “Along with every other college and university president in Georgia, I have continued to communicate that opposition to our legislators with every iteration of guns-on-campus legislation that has come up year after year in spite of overwhelming opposition by the people in this state.”

Schrader was among 350 college and university presidents signing an open letter to lawmakers in 2012 urging action to curb gun violence and reform gun safety laws.

The powerful governing board of the University System of Georgia opposed the so-called “campus carry” measure. All 29 public university and college presidents, along with their police chiefs, also said they opposed the bill.

“I was born and raised in Mississippi in a gun-owning and hunting family, and we shot things — just not people or bald eagles,” he said in his statement. “I believe that on a college campus, where students sometimes receive grades they do not appreciate, classrooms and firearms are not a good mix. Also, social events common to most colleges, and sporting events where feelings and alcohol consumption run high, are not conducive to a highly armed population of party goers.”

John O’Sullivan, a professor in the University of North Georgia’s Institute for Environmental & Spatial Analysis, said discussion of the campus carry law has been raging on campus for months.

While he understands there is not unanimous agreement, top administrative and law enforcement officials have roundly opposed the bill.

“College and university campuses are special academic villages, and it is right and proper to leave the management of these places to the state’s administrative, faculty and police officers most familiar with the environments and charged with managing them for good of the state and, especially, its youth,” O’Sullivan said.  

UNG student Michelle Zuluaga Valencia, said she supports the veto because of several concerns, including the potential increased risk of sexual assault on campus.

“There any many more variables to this legislation besides a crazy inhuman person going into a classroom and starting to shoot,” she said. “This legislation would make it harder for our brave policemen and women to do their job efficiently. People can be falsely accused of shooting in a moment of adrenaline.”

UNG student Dylan Lewis, a self-identified conservative and Republican voter, said the issue wasn’t cut and dry.

“I was originally all for the bill,” he said. “However, after some consideration and speaking to my father who’s a deputy in White County, I’m not convinced this is a good bill.”

Lewis said he now believed the law would make the job of first responders more difficult in a crisis situation by potentially making it harder to distinguish who is a threat and who isn’t.  

However, Lewis said he remains “really torn on the issue.”

“I certainly feel lives could be saved in certain situations if this bill becomes law, but it really hinders the ability of first responders to accurately use their discretion,” he added.

UNG student Paul Glaze said he feels the campus is safer than society at large.

“Considering that college campuses today, with their own security and police forces, represent some of the safest environments in the country, and that a Department of Justice study found that 93 percent of violent crimes that victimize college students occur off-campus, this law represented a potentially inadequate fix for a minor subset of actual crime,” he said.

But Glaze did acknowledge one potential upside of the campus carry bill, which is that it spurred the passage of a separate bill that would authorize the possession and use of electroshock weapons, such as a Taser, for all students on Georgia campuses.

This could be a good compromise to help address the issue of sexual assault on campus, Glaze said.

“I believe this to be an agreeable and responsible approach to an incredibly serious campus-safety issue,” he added. “I would hope that such measures would also be accompanied by greater education and support of initiatives to fight violence against women not just on college campuses but across our great state.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.