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Georgia Governor Questions Campus Guns Bill to NRA Backlash

ATLANTA ― Georgia’s governor stopped short of a veto threat against a bill lifting a weapons ban on the state’s public college campuses on Tuesday. But the Republican’s call for fixes to the bill awaiting his signature prompted pushback from the National Rifle Association and Georgia lawmakers still supportive of the original proposal.

The state Senate on Friday sent a bill to Republican Gov. Nathan Deal allowing licensed gun owners who are 21 and older to carry concealed weapons on public college campuses. The bill, which easily passed both the House and Senate controlled by Republicans, exempts student housing, including fraternity and sorority houses, and athletic facilities.

Deal, first on Monday and again on Tuesday, said he’s concerned about day care facilities on public college campuses and K-12 students who take classes at universities or technical colleges through programs aimed at high-achievers.

Deal also said he wants school administrators to have rule-making ability regarding weapons so they could decide on exemptions for faculty or administrator offices and during disciplinary hearings.

Deal refused to say whether he would veto the so-called “campus carry” bill if lawmakers don’t respond.

“I’ll have to decide that when the time comes,” he said.

Lawmakers plan to adjourn next Friday and have three remaining days to hold full floor votes. No proposals emerged on Tuesday aimed at Deal’s concerns and the governor said he was reluctant to propose specific language.

Deal, a Republican in his final term, indicated that some solutions are best developed by higher education officials developing their own rules. Deal said he thinks lawmakers still have time to respond.

“I know people say ‘Well you’ve only got a few days left,’” Deal said. “That’s a lifetime in the legislative process.”

Representatives for the state’s university and technical college systems issued grateful statements this week thanking Deal for his input. But gun rights organizations began mobilizing against any forthcoming changes, arguing that Georgia law doesn’t ban guns from malls and other locations frequented by students younger than college-age or from private day care centers.

Deal said private businesses can decide to prevent weapons on their property. That didn’t sway supporters of the original bill.

“Governor Deal’s newfound concerns about this critical campus safety bill are baffling,” National Rifle Association spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said. “Two weeks ago he said the existing argument against it ‘lacks validity.’ The evidence is clear, students are safer on campuses that allows law-abiding gun owners to protect themselves and their fellow students.”

Mortensen said the NRA is urging its members to contact Deal and “respectfully express their support for this campus safety bill.”

If Deal signed the bill, it would make Georgia one of nine states that allow concealed weapons on college campuses: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, and effective Aug. 1, Texas.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 23 states leave the decision to ban or allow weapons up to the individual colleges and universities, and 19 states ― including Georgia ― currently ban concealed weapons on campuses.

Lawmakers seemed uncertain how to respond to Deal on Tuesday. The original bill’s House sponsors, Republican Mandi Ballinger of Canton and Rick Jasperse of Jasper, said they support their original proposal without changes.

“We’re just waiting on the governor to sign it,” Jasperse said. “I think the nice thing is that we have had years to work on this. We have heard testimony from both sides and we think this will make it safer for Georgians over 21 who went through the background checks and have been the doing the right things their whole lives.”

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