Government

Governor's Veto Won't End Fight Over Concealed Guns at Georgia's Public Colleges

May 03, 2016

Landon Trust
Protesters rallied against the campus-carry legislation in March in Athens, Ga., home of the U. of Georgia. Gov. Nathan Deal said the measure failed to give campuses flexibility to set their own rules.
Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia vetoed legislation on Tuesday that would have made his state the 10th to allow licensed gun holders to carry concealed weapons in most locations on public-college campuses.

The governor, a Republican who has supported expanding the right to carry guns in places as sensitive as bars and churches, waited until the final day of a 40-day bill-signing period to announce his decision on the politically explosive issue of campus carry.

"From the early days of our nation and state, colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed," the governor wrote. "To depart from such time-honored protections should require overwhelming justification. I do not find that such justification exists. Therefore, I veto HB 859."

If the intent of the measure was to improve campus safety, he added, "it is highly questionable that that would be the result." Instead, he issued an executive order to leaders of the state’s public-college systems to report back on their security measures by August 1. Mr. Deal also called on municipalities surrounding the colleges to review and, if necessary, tighten security near the campuses.

All of his options on the campus-carry bill carried risks. Sign the law and anger those in higher education who have flooded his office with emails and letters saying they would feel less safe — not more — if guns were allowed on their campuses.

Or veto it and further enrage conservatives who are still stinging about his veto of a "religious liberty" bill that critics said would discriminate against gay people.

If Governor Deal neither vetoed nor signed the legislation by Tuesday, it would have automatically become law.

That’s the approach Tennessee’s governor, Bill Haslam, took late Monday, when a bill allowing faculty and staff members — but not students — to be armed on public-college campuses became law without his signature.

“From the early days of our nation and state, colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed.”
Both governors had expressed misgivings about the bills introduced in their states, and wanted more flexibility for campuses to set their own rules.

The Georgia measure would have allowed anyone 21 or older with a weapons license to carry a concealed gun anywhere on a public-college campus unless the area was specifically excluded. The areas lawmakers carved out for exclusions included dormitories, sporting-event venues, and fraternity and sorority houses.

In the final days of the legislative session, Mr. Deal asked lawmakers to tweak HB 859, to give individual colleges the flexibility to ban guns from campus day-care centers, disciplinary hearings, and faculty and administrative offices. He also expressed concern about the safety of high-school students who are also enrolled in college courses.

Lawmakers refused to change the bill, saying that doing so would gut the intent of the legislation.

‘Collective Paranoia’

The National Rifle Association released a statement on Tuesday saying it was "unfortunate that Governor Deal vetoed a bill that would have made Georgia campuses safer for his constituents."

The group said it would work with Georgia lawmakers to reintroduce legislation next year.

The governor’s decision was also criticized by Robert Y. Eagar, Southeast regional director for Students for Concealed Carry. He said the decision would "leave our students sitting ducks to be targeted by criminals."

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Rick Jasperse, said he was disappointed that the governor had rejected a bill that both the House and the Senate had overwhelmingly approved.

“This was always about keeping people from being victims. No good Georgian who's a student is going to be threatening professors or stifling conversation.”
"This was always about keeping people from being victims," the Republican lawmaker said. "No good Georgian who’s a student is going to be threatening professors or stifling conversation." The governor, he said, "may have listened too much to that overstated, hand-wringing kind of thing."

The move was welcomed, however, by higher-education leaders who had long fought to keep guns off their campuses. The University System of Georgia released a statement expressing appreciation for the veto. "We recognize this was not an easy decision for the governor to make," it said, adding that campus leaders and police chiefs were committed to enhancing safety systemwide.

The student newspaper at the University of Georgia reported that 62 percent of students polled there opposed the measure, while a poll at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that students there overwhelmingly disapproved of the bill.

C.S. Thachenkary, who retired on December 31 as an associate professor of managerial sciences at Georgia State University, said his decision to leave after three decades had been hastened by the prospect that a campus-carry law would be enacted.

In an interview on Tuesday, the 67-year-old former Faculty Senate leader outlined a variety of scenarios that he said could elevate what a colleague referred to as the "collective paranoia" among professors. Those include handing a difficult student a failing paper and then having to turn around to write on the blackboard, informing a doctoral student that she had failed the oral defense of a dissertation she had spent three to five years producing, or announcing that a colleague’s tenure bid had been denied.

Adding guns to the mix of any of those situations, he said, could create "a combustible combination."

Katherine Mangan writes about community colleges, completion efforts, and job training, as well as other topics in daily news. Follow her on Twitter @KatherineMangan, or email her at katherine.mangan@chronicle.com.

Correction (5/4/2016, 12:40 p.m.): The original photo caption stated that the protest pictured took place last month, when in fact it was in March. The text has been corrected.