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Flipping On The Issue, Georgia Gov. Signs Campus Carry Bill

A pedestrian walks by the library at the Georgia State University campus.
David Goldman
A pedestrian walks by the library at the Georgia State University campus.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has signed a bill legalizing the concealed carry of firearms in some areas of public college and university campuses.

Last year, many against the bill celebrated strong language in Governor Deal's veto of a similar bill.

In that veto, Deal's office said it was "highly questionable" that the bill would make students safer.

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

Georgia is the second state this year to pass a campus carry law, after Arkansas. Utah was the first to get the ball rolling in 2007. Later that year, a shooter at Virginia Tech killed more than 30 people on campus. At least 10 states now allow some form of campus carry and nearly 20 bills were introduced across the country by state lawmakers just last year.

Deal has said his previous opposition to the bill had to do with lawmakers failing to include exemptions for "sensitive places" on campus, including preschools, disciplinary hearings, some offices and dormitories. This year, state representatives gave him the bill he asked for, and his focus shifted to safety concerns off campus.

"Unfortunately, in parts of the state, the path to higher education travels through dangerous territory," Deal wrote this year, referring to muggings that have occurred on or near some college campuses.

Atlanta's chief of police has opposed the law, as has the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.

In a statement, Regents Chancellor Steve Wrigley told schools to wait on policy guidance to be worked out before the law takes effect in July.

"We recognize that many have strong feelings about this new law," said Wrigley.

The move is a blow to many professors and students who've protested loudly against the measure for five years as lawmakers have tried to get a bill through.

Gun control advocates blamed Deal's shift in part on the National Rifle Association coming to Atlanta for its annual meeting.

"This flip-flop will be what Georgians remember about our governor for years to come – that he bent to the Washington gun lobby that came to town for a couple of days for a convention rather than listening to his own constituents and campus stakeholders," said Lindsay Donovan with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America in a statement.

Some, however, are celebrating. Student Ja'Quan Taylor, who carries his handgun off-campus regularly and heads the marksmanship club at Georgia Tech, said he's "extremely excited" about Deal's signature.

"It's comforting to know that the right to protect myself doesn't end the instant I walk onto campus grounds, especially when considering I spend a huge portion of my day there," he said via text.

The NRA's lobbying arm has said supporting student activists like Taylor is an increasing part of a strategy to grow membership.

"Sort of a more focused effort to specifically have students speaking on behalf of NRA issues and educating students on gun rights on their campuses," said Glen Caroline, who heads the NRA's grassroots division, last week at the group's annual meeting.

Georgia's campus carry law is set to go into effect July 1.

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Lisa Hagen