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'Campus Carry' Gun Bill Is Vetoed In Georgia, With A Lengthy Explanation

Gov. Nathan Deal says that a bill making it legal to carry guns in most buildings and areas at public colleges is too broad. He's seen here at the end of the General Assembly's session in March.
Jason Getz
Gov. Nathan Deal says that a bill making it legal to carry guns in most buildings and areas at public colleges is too broad. He's seen here at the end of the General Assembly's session in March.

Saying "colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed," Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have allowed licensed owners to carry guns on campus in all but a few buildings.

The "campus carry" legislation, HB 859, would have allowed guns on campuses and in buildings owned by any public college, technical school or other institution, providing exceptions only for areas used for athletic events, dormitories, and fraternity and sorority houses.

As member station WABE reports, Deal's veto comes two years after he signed the so-called guns everywhere bill — officially, the Safe Carry Protection Act, which broadly increased the places gun owners in Georgia can carry weapons. As NPR reported at the time, the list of approved places included "unsecured government buildings."

But on Tuesday, the governor said guns shouldn't be allowed on campuses, as WABE says, "at least not without stricter rules on where they can be carried."

Deal unsuccessfully lobbied the bill's sponsors for changes that would have forbidden guns to be brought into settings such as day care facilities and faculty or administrative offices, WABE's Johnny Kauffman says.

This is Deal's second veto of high-profile legislation in recent months: In late March, he announced his plan to veto a controversial bill that would have allowed people to cite their religious views as a reason to deny services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Explaining his decision to reject the "campus carry" bill in a lengthy veto statement (see the entry for Veto Number 9), Deal cited the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's writing in the high court's opinion in the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case:

"While the subject matter of HB 859 was not before the Court in the Heller case, the opinion clearly establishes that 'Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.' Justice Scalia further states that 'nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on...laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings...' "

Deal also cited another record — one that's nearly 200 years old: the minutes of an Oct. 4, 1824, meeting of the Board of Visitors of the then-newly created University of Virginia.

Noting that the attendees at the 1824 meeting included Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Deal writes that the school's rules included this line: "No student shall, within the precincts of the University, introduce, keep or use any spirituous or venomous liquors, keep or use weapons or arms of any kind..."

Addressing the idea that the desire to prevent campus shootings had sparked Georgia's legislation, Deal suggested that the state's General Assembly consider stiffening the penalty for the unauthorized possession or use of a firearm on college grounds as one way to deter such crimes.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.