‘Campus carry’ gun bill filed in Georgia House

The author of 2014 legislation that expanded gun rights in Georgia is back this year with another effort to legalize firearms on college campuses.

State Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, and state Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, have filed House Bill 859, which would allow anyone 21 or older with a weapons license to carry a gun anywhere on a public college or university campus, except for dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses, and at athletic events.

“Our position on it is pretty clear,” Jasperse told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are restoring rights to Georgians.”

The bill already has dozens of co-sponsors, including state Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun, the chairman of the powerful Rules Committee that decides which bills reach the House floor. More importantly, the bill also has the support of Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, meaning it will almost surely pass the House.

“I support this legislation just as I have the previous efforts the House made to preserve Georgians’ Second Amendment rights,” Ralston said.

The House voted in 2014 to legalize campus carry, but the Senate stripped that language from the final version of Jasperse’s bill that became known as the “Guns Everywhere Bill.” The legislation signed into law that year allowed weapons to be carried into many government buildings, bars and restaurants, athletic events and more, while the powerful University System of Georgia successfully fought to keep guns off college campuses.

Charlie Sutlive, the vice chancellor for the Board of Regents, which oversees the University System, was succinct when asked for a reaction to the latest effort to allow weapons on campus.

“We support current state law,” Sutlive said.

Jasperse, however, believes much has changed in just two years. The nightmare scenarios opponents predicted before his 2014 bill passed haven’t happened, he said.

“We’ve not had all these cataclysmic events,” he said. “That’s the good thing. If you really get down to looking at the numbers, crime in general, especially aggravated crime, has gone down. Not on college campuses, though. There’s no argument about it.”

Ballinger said students can be seen as easy targets.

“Under current regulation, I would be forbidden from protecting myself because I would have to leave my gun in my car,” she said. “I think one of the fundamental rights of law-abiding Georgians is the right to defend themselves and the right not to be a victim.”

State Rep. Virgil Fludd, D-Tyrone, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus, said he has two children who graduated from college and he, too, worries about campus violence. This bill, however, is not the answer, he said.

“The argument that arming more people on campuses without any training could create more problems than it solves,” Fludd said. “Who is responsible when that student shoots an innocent bystander? Who pays for the additional security and gun storage facilities?”

Eight states allow campus carry, and nearly two dozen others allow individual schools to decide.

“In Georgia, our priorities should be directed toward arming our students with a first-class education, not with a handgun,” Fludd said. “More guns on campus is not a solution. It’s costly, distracting and dangerous.”

Lindsey Donovan, the leader of the Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, was at the Capitol on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to “put the safety of all Georgians first and reject the gun lobby’s attempts to force guns into our schools.”

“College life comes with many risk factors that guns may potentially make even more dangerous,” Donovan said. “We should all work together to continue to guarantee that students and faculty are safe in their academic environments.”

Criminals don’t care that guns aren’t allowed on vast college campuses, Ralston said.

“While we would love for college campuses to be perfectly safe, we live in a world where criminals and terrorists love nothing more than ‘gun-free zones,’ ” Ralston said. “Getting a college degree should not mean abdicating your Second Amendment rights.”

Jerry Henry, executive director of Georgia Carry, a leading gun rights group, said those who legally carry firearms are responsible adults.

“This bill allows those who are 21 or over, been subject to background checks by the GBI, FBI, mental health check and have obtained a Georgia weapons license,” said Jerry Henry, the executive director of Georgia Carry. “These same persons are legal to carry in any location in Georgia that is not listed as off-limits.”

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