Georgia Senate backs guns on campus, setting up final vote

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgians licensed to carry concealed weapons could take handguns onto college campuses under legislation approved Tuesday by the state Senate, which kept the measure alive for a possible vote by the full legislature before lawmakers adjourn for the year on Thursday.

If House and Senate members give the bill a final vote, Gov. Nathan Deal will have to decide whether to repeat last year's veto of a similar measure. Now in his last term, the Republican chief executive has said this time around that his office is talking with legislators but hasn't taken a firm stance.

The proposal would allow anyone 21 and older with a state-issued permit to carry a concealed handgun on campus.

Hoping to win Deal over, lawmakers retained exemptions included in last year's measure - fraternities, sororities, other student housing, and athletic facilities - and added new exemptions: for on-campus preschools and buildings where high school-age students attend classes.

Supporters said the bill would only apply to people who had gone through a background check to receive their concealed carry license.

"Do you believe that law-abiding, background-checked citizens should be prohibited from providing for their own protection just because they choose to go to college?" Republican Sen. Bill Heath of Bremen, who carried the bill in the chamber, asked his colleagues before they approved the measure.

In his sweeping veto last year, Deal signaled that his opposition to permitting concealed handguns on the state's public campuses was deeply rooted. Citing legal precedent, he referenced Thomas Jefferson and James Madison's opposition to guns on the University of Virginia campus, as well as U.S. Supreme Court opinion by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, which described schools as "sensitive places" under the Second Amendment.

The governor is also likely to be asked again for his veto by officials for the University System of Georgia, faculty and national gun-safety activist groups.

Sen. Fran Millar of Atlanta was among four Republican senators to vote against the bill. Millar said he thinks the university system is improving its own campus safety efforts and doubts that a few exemptions will be enough to get Deal's support.

"I'm not trying to offend anybody; I understand people's concerns about gun rights," Millar told senators during the debate. "But why are we doing this? What's the end game?"

Millar voted against last year's bill, too.

State Sens. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta, Bill Cowsert of Athens and Jack Hill of Reidsville changed from "yes" votes last year to "no" votes this year.

Georgia is among 17 states that ban concealed weapons on campuses. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, 24 states leave the decision up to individual campuses, and lawmakers in eight states allow concealed weapons: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Tennessee allows licensed faculty members to carry concealed weapons on campus.