Placeholder Image

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal in January.

Campus Carry

Pro-Gun Governor Vetoes Campus Carry Bill in Georgia

Nathan Deal says the right to bring firearms on public university grounds is “not guaranteed by the Second Amendment."

Georgia’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal, vetoed a bill on Tuesday that would have allowed students to bring guns on public university campuses, delivering a blow to a movement poised to claim new momentum. Deal’s decision came a day after Tennessee’s Republican governor announced that he would allow legislation that permits full-time public college employees to bring firearms on campus to become law without his signature. A win in Georgia would have given campus carry proponents their second significant victory in as many days. 

Instead, Deal came down against the measure. “The right to keep and bear arms in sensitive places,” such as university campuses, “is not guaranteed by the Second Amendment nor the Georgia constitution,” Deal said in a statement that cites precedent set by the founding fathers and offers a full-throated rebuke of the entire concept of campus carry.

Deal is a second-term governor with a strong pro-gun rights record. In 2014, he signed a bill that makes it easier to carry firearms in churches, bars, and some state buildings. He initially signaled that he would support legislation to allow students aged 21 and over to carry concealed weapons to class, but later asked lawmakers to consider exemptions for on-campus child care centers, faculty and administrative office space, and disciplinary meetings. Those requests were ignored.

The planned veto was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Idaho have all lifted some gun restriction on college campuses in recent years. In Texas, a campus carry law takes effect August 1. But more than a dozen states have rejected campus carry during the past two legislative years. 

Deal’s decision was likely influenced by a strong backlash to the legislation from many of the state’s most influential groups, including campus police chiefs, the Board of Regents, and the presidents of all 29 state universities, who said they opposed the campus carry bill.

One Georgia Tech professor said he worried that guns on campus would worsen the anxieties of students who, compared to previous cohorts, face more competitive admissions conditions and higher levels of student debt, and experience more mental health issues. 

Deal said that the notion that college campuses should be gun-free zones has “deep roots in Georgia.” He also cited an example from post-Revolution Virginia, where Thomas Jefferson and James Madison agreed that university students should not keep weapons “of any kind.”

“The approval of these specific prohibitions relating to ‘campus carry’ by the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and the principal author of the United States Constitution should not only dispel any vestige of constitutional privilege but should illustrate that having college campuses free of weapons has great historical precedent,” he said in the statement.

The National Rifle Association, which has lobbied to expand gun rights on campuses, released a statement expressing disappointment with Deal’s decision. “It is unfortunate that Governor Deal vetoed a bill that would have made Georgia campuses safer for his constituents,” a press release says.

Georgia students overwhelmingly opposed the campus carry bill in their state. Of 5,000 Georgia Tech students polled by the school’s student government, 70 percent said they opposed the bill, and only 23 percent said they supported it. The majority of the students at Georgia Tech also said concealed guns on campus would make them feel less safe. The bill was also unpopular among constituents. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution polled readers two years ago on the issue, at which point 78 percent of the respondents were against Georgia implementing campus carry.

In the immediate aftermath of the veto announcement, students in the University of Georgia system took to social media to celebrate the move.

In Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam had also expressed reservations about legislation that will make it easier for faculty and other university employees to carry guns on public campuses. In a survey, 87 percent of University of Tennessee faculty indicated that they “strongly disagree” that allowing guns on campus is “in the best interest of the community.”

Rather than sign or veto the measure, Haslam chose to do nothing — which means the bill will become law. “I hope that as a state we will monitor the impact of this new law and listen to the feedback of higher education leaders responsible for operationalizing it,” Haslam said.

Soon after Haslam announced his decision, the Tennessee Senate Minority Leader, Lee Harris, tweeted, “Our office contacted every TN public university re guns on campus. Nearly every stakeholder we spoke to — admin, faculty, students — was against.”

[Photo: AP Photo/David Goldman]