ATLANTA — Despite Gov. Nathan Deal's forceful veto last year, Georgia's House approved another bill on Friday that would allow licensed gun owners to carry concealed handguns on public college campuses.
By a vote of 108-63, the Republican House majority sent the bill to the state Senate, which could set up another politically unpopular rejection by the Republican governor.
The measure would allow anyone 21 and older with a state-issued permit to carry a concealed handgun on campus. Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, sponsored this year's version, which would keep the guns out of on-campus preschools. Last year's bill only kept weapons out of student housing and athletic venues. Ballinger kept those exemptions this year.
"College campuses are open environments" where people should be allowed to carry guns for protection, Ballinger said. "They don't have controlled points of entry, metal detectors or x-ray machines. Regardless of how any particular professor or student feels about the issue, laws must be based on facts not feelings."
Georgia is among 17 states that ban concealed weapons on campuses. Ballinger and other supporters said states that have allowed them have not seen dramatic safety problems.
Deal, who is 74 and constitutionally limited to two terms, hasn't taken a firm stance on this year's legislation.
"We are having open discussions with the bill's authors and will continue on the bill, as with all pieces of legislation where there is a willingness to work together for Georgia," said Jen Talaber Ryan, Deal's spokeswoman.
Deal cited guns in child care facilities as one of his concerns about last year's bill. He also requested some flexibility for campuses to decide whether guns should be permitted in buildings that hold administrative offices or during disciplinary hearings. This year's bill didn't add those abilities.
Deal suggested last year that his opposition has deep roots. He said the late Justice Antonin Scalia described schools and government buildings as "sensitive places" under the Second Amendment.
"From the early days of our nation and state, colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed," Deal wrote. "To depart from such time-honored protections should require overwhelming justification."
The University System of Georgia opposes the bill permitting guns on campuses. Chancellor Steve Wrigley told members of a House committee that existing law already "strikes the right balance" to protect campuses.
But there was little doubt the House would again approve the bill. It has strong backing from House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, who said the final decision will be Deal's to make.
"We have tried to be accommodating to his concerns," Ralston said. "We've had and will continue to have a close working relationship moving Georgia forward and I hope that includes strengthening our rights under the Constitution."
Democrats quoted extensively from Deal's veto message during Friday's debate, and argued that the change wouldn't make campuses safer.
"We can't solve this problem by arming our children," said Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates. "We have to arm them with awareness and good sense."