Governor Deal Vetoes Campus Carry Legislation

This year’s bill signing period was bookmarked by two significant vetoes. Four days after the legislative session ended, the governor vetoed House Bill 757, the religious liberty bill. This afternoon, he vetoed House Bill 859, which would have allowed students who are at least 21 years old with concealed carry permits to possess guns in many locations on University System of Georgia campuses.

The veto of HB 757 angered many in the GOP base, who believed that the Free Exercise Protection Act was a compromise on religious liberty legislation agreed to by all sides, including the Governor’s office. After calls for a special session to override the veto failed, legislators vowed to try again next year.

The veto of the Campus Carry bill was a little different. After Governor Deal expressed initial support for a campus carry measure, saying that he couldn’t find examples where campus carry legislation in other states increased gun violence on campus, Rep. Rick Jasperse of Jasper authored HB 859, which passed the House and Senate. After that, Governor Deal expressed concerns over the bill’s language, going as far as suggesting specific changes he wanted made. Despite the warning shot, no further changes were made to the legislation.

Now, it’s time to think abut the fallout from the two vetoes. Governor Deal doesn’t need to face voters again, so that’s not a factor. Despite the two vetoes, the governor can still influence the next two years of the legislature with the use of his veto pen, especially the line item veto on a budget item benefiting a lawmaker’s district. That veto threat should help him next year if, as expected, Deal introduces legislation to reform the Quality Basic Education Act and adjust the way elementary and secondary teacher compensation.

This fall, Governor Deal will ask the voters to approve his Opportunity School District constitutional amendment. The OSD legislation was passed by the legislature in 2015. Many voters may have forgotten about it, or may have not heard about it at all, which means we can expect a campaign this fall to encourage voters to approve the measure. Supporters of the religious liberty bill have threatened to help defeat the measure. The veto of the campus carry bill could intensify opposition to the plan.

The other open question is now much the two vetoes will affect the race for governor and other constitutional officers in 2018. Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, a possible contender for governor, has indicated that he supports passing religious liberty legislation. Will he or another candidate run on signing a campus carry bill if elected?

House Speaker David Ralston issued the following statement regarding the veto:

I am deeply disappointed by Governor Deal’s decision to veto House Bill 859 – the Campus Safety Act. While I respect the Governor and his right to act as he has, I believe this measure is sound and reasonable. This bill was thoroughly debated. At no time before final passage by the Senate were any concerns raised that were not addressed.

At a time when our Second Amendment rights are under attack, I believed and still believe that it is very important that we do all that is necessary and proper to strengthen our constitutional protections. Georgians should not be required to give up their constitutional rights when they set foot on a college campus.

This is not the end of this discussion. I will continue to defend and protect the rights of law-abiding Georgians under our Second Amendment.

I want to again thank Rep. Rick Jasperse, Rep. Mandi Ballinger, Rep. John Meadows and Rep. Alan Powell for their leadership and tireless efforts on behalf of this bill.

Campus carry supporters and opponents reacted to the veto differently, as could be expected.

Robert Eagar, Southeast Regional Director of Students for Concealed Carry, expressed his disappointment:

Jake Orvis, President of the Georgia College Democrats and the Georgia Tech Democrats, had a different opinion:

The Governor’s veto statement is below the fold.

HB 859 seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127.1, which relates to the carrying of weapons within school safety zones. It would add an exception to the prohibition of carrying or possessing a weapon in such school zones, to “any licensed holder when he or she is in any building or on real property owned or leased to any public technical school, vocational school, college or university or other public institution of postsecondary education,” except for “buildings or property used for athletic sporting events or student housing, including, but not limited to fraternity and sorority houses…”

Some supporters of HB 859 contend that this legislation is justified under the provisions of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution which provides in part that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Identical words are contained in Article I, Section, I, Paragraph VIII of the Constitution of the State of Georgia. It would be incorrect to conclude, however, that certain restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms are unconstitutional.

In the 2008 case of District of Columbia v. Heller, United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, writing the opinion of the Court, reviews the history of the Second Amendment and sets forth the most complete explanation of the Amendment ever embodied in a Supreme Court opinion. While the subject matter of HB 859 was not before the Court in the Heller case, the opinion clearly establishes that “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Justice Scalia further states that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on…laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings…”

Georgia, like most jurisdictions, has set forth statutory provisions defining what constitutes those “sensitive places” and has imposed specific rules relating to the presence of weapons in those places. Indeed, the Georgia Code section which HB 859 seeks to amend is called the “Georgia Firearms and Weapons Act.”

Since the right to keep and bear arms in sensitive places such as those enumerated in HB 859 is not guaranteed by the Second Amendment nor the Georgia Constitution, the inquiry should then focus on whether or not those places deserve to continue to be shielded from weapons as they are and have been for generations in our state.

Perhaps the most enlightening evidence of the historical significance of prohibiting weapons on a college campus is found in the minutes of October 4, 1824, Board of Visitors of the newly created University of Virginia. Present for that meeting were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, along with four other members. In that meeting of the Board of Visitors, detailed rules were set forth for the operation of the University which would open several months later. Under the rules relating to the conduct of students, it provided that “No student shall, within the precincts of the University, introduce, keep or use any spirituous or venomous liquors, keep or use weapons or arms 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.

That college campuses should be a “gun free zone” is a concept that has deep roots in Georgia as well. In the 2014 session of the Georgia General Assembly, HB 60 was passed and I signed it into law. That bill greatly expanded the areas where licensed gun owners could take their weapons. At that time, campus carry was considered but not adopted.

While there have been alarming incidents of criminal conduct on college campuses in which students have been victimized during the past two years, do those acts justify such a radical departure from the classification of colleges as “sensitive areas” where weapons are not allowed? The presumed justification is the need for students to provide their own self protection against such criminal conduct. However, since students who are under 21 years of age would be ineligible to avail themselves of such protection under the terms of HB 859, it is safe to assume that a significant portion of the student body would be unarmed.

As for the buildings and places referred to in this legislation, I will simply call “colleges.” In order to carry a weapon onto a college, there is no requirement that the armed individual actually be a student, only that they possess a license to carry a weapon. Since most, if not all, of our colleges are open campuses, this bill will allow any licensed gun owner to bring a concealed weapon onto the campus and neither police nor other law enforcement personnel will be allowed to even ask the individual to produce evidence of his license.

If the intent of HB 859 is to increase safety of students on college campuses, it is highly questionable that such would be the result. However, I understand the concerns of the authors of this legislation and the parents and students who want it to become law. They apparently believe that the colleges are not providing adequate security on their campuses and that civilian police are not doing so on the sidewalks, streets and parking lots students use as they go to and come from classes.

I have today issued an Executive Order directed to the Commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia and the Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, requesting that they submit a report to me, the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House by August 1, 2016, as to the security measures that each college within their respective systems has in place. I hereby call on the leaders of the municipalities and counties in which these colleges are located, along with their law enforcement agencies to review and improve, if necessary, their security measures in areas surrounding these colleges. Since each of these municipalities and counties receive significant revenue by virtue of the location of these colleges in their jurisdictions, I believe it is appropriate that they be afforded extra protections.

Since much of the motivation for HB 859 is the commission of crimes involving the use of firearms on college campuses, I suggest to the General Assembly that it consider making the unauthorized possession and/or use of a firearm on a college campus an act that carries an increased penalty or an enhanced sentence for the underlying crime.

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. Therefore, I VETO HB 859.


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