A Cherokee representative’s legislation that would allow concealed carry permit holders to bring their guns onto Georgia’s public college campuses is slated to come to the House floor for a vote Friday, the bill’s sponsor said.
Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, said Wednesday the bill would need to pass the House this week in order to stay alive this legislative session.
The measure cleared the House Public Safety Committee on Monday.
Ballinger, who argues that Second Amendment protections should extend to Georgia’s public colleges and universities, reintroduced the controversial bill this year after it was vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal last May. This year’s measure is nearly identical to the one carried by Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, last year, but would prohibit firearms from being brought onto child care facilities located on college campuses.
The measure would allow anyone age 21 and older to carry a concealed handgun on campus with a state-issued permit, which requires that applicants be fingerprinted and undergo a background check.
Though the legislation has the support of each member of Cherokee’s legislative delegation, it faces opposition across the state, namely from the University System of Georgia, which has long opposed students and teachers being able to carry firearms into classrooms.
USG Chancellor Steve Wrigley testified before the Public Safety Committee last month, saying university officials opposed legislation to allow firearms on college campuses.
“We feel strongly that current law strikes the right balance to create a safe environment on our campuses,” he said. “This position is supported by our presidents and campus public safety departments, who are closest to the day-to-day realities and operations of the state’s public colleges and universities.”
Georgia is one of 17 states that bans concealed weapons on college campuses, mandating students and faculty leave them in their cars.
But Ballinger told the Tribune her bill was aimed at allowing students to protect themselves, which is hard to do if their firearms are locked away in their vehicles. She said when she studied at Georgia State University there were times she felt unsafe on campus.
“I’d be sitting in class and I’d receive a text that there had been an armed robbery at a convenience store I would have to pass on my way to my car,” she said after introducing the legislation, citing several armed robberies that have occurred on or near the university’s sprawling downtown campus.
Those opposed to allowing concealed carry holders to bring their guns onto campuses, however, maintain that institutions of higher learning are no place for firearms, citing concerns that more guns could lead to increased rates of violence.
Amy Jeffs, the legislative lead for the Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action, a group opposing House Bill 280, said Wednesday that she was concerned about the impact the bill would have on Georgia’s colleges.
“This is the fourth year in a row that this type of bill has been proposed,” Jeffs said. “We were obviously very happy with the governor’s decision to veto the bill last year and we’re hoping that if this legislation does reach his desk, he will choose not to sign it into law.”
In a statement released after his decision to veto last year’s campus carry bill, Deal called colleges “sanctuaries of learning” where firearms have not been allowed, adding that he didn’t see justification to depart from that “time-honored protection.”
“I just think that there are various circumstances where just having the presence of a firearm could really make a situation more harmful than good,” Jeffs said, adding that her group didn’t think the bill was in the best interest of students, faculty or administrators. “We just don’t feel that putting guns and access to guns on college campuses will increase safety.”
But Ballinger said her legislation simply gives “good guys” the right to defend themselves if they need to.
“The whole gun-free zone thing isn’t working,” she said. “Whenever you take away the ability for good people to defend themselves, only the bad people are left.”
Friday is Crossover Day, the last day for legislation to pass the chamber it was introduced in before transferring to the other chamber.
Last year’s version of the “Campus Carry” bill passed the House by a margin of 113-59.