ATLANTA (AP) — Licensed gun owners who are 21 and older would be able to carry concealed weapons on public college campuses in Georgia if Gov. Nathan Deal signs a bill headed to his desk.
The Georgia Senate passed the bill by a 37-17 vote on Friday, bidding to legalize concealed firearms on campuses statewide. Senate passage followed long and contentious debate that featured opposition from both Republicans and Democrats. If the governor signs the bill into law, it would allow anyone 21 and over to carry a concealed gun on campus if they have a proper state-issued permit.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Rick Jasperse, said the bill would make great strides in promoting safety on Georgia's college and university campuses. Other states, such as Texas and Utah, have enacted similar legislation.
"This bill isn't about violence," the Jasper Republican said. "We are talking about Georgians over 21 who have had background checks and done the right things throughout their lives and now have the ability to carry a weapon in our state and that is the key group we are looking at."
In order to obtain a concealed carry permit, a background check must be passed. Critics, however, argued that no training is required to receive a license.
State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said it is disappointing that the bill passed. He said the majority of the public opposes this bill, which they never had a chance to vote on. "In a representative democracy, you would think that the representatives would represent their constituents, and that's not the case today," he added.
Sen. Fran Millar was one of the few Republicans in his chamber to oppose the legislation, saying that it is the result of an attitude of fear. Other opponents of the bill voiced concerns about how the increase in concealed firearms on campus would impact academia around the state. This ranged from losing students to other states to not having adequate protection for on-campus day care facilities.
State Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, said that no language was included to exclude guns from on-campus childcare space.
The bill heads to the desk of the governor, who said last month that opponents' concerns about the bill "lack validity."
Deal then cited the equally contentious debate before passage of 2014 law expanding the locations where people can carry guns legally in Georgia.
"Two years ago, when we were debating all the expansion of the right to carry in various places, we heard all the hype that we're now hearing about campus carry, all the predictions of tragedies, all the predictions that we were going to open our state up to a Wild West scenario," Deal said. "I've not heard those stories."
The governor's spokeswoman, Jen Talaber, declined comment Friday on the bill.