ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday he has vetoed a bill allowing concealed handguns on college campuses, rejecting the proposal that was easily approved by a legislature controlled by his own party in an election year.
The bill would have allowed anyone age 21 and over to carry a concealed handgun with the proper permit on a public college or university campus. The veto decision comes weeks after Deal rejected a bill shielding opponents of gay marriage. That measure was backed by conservative groups but blasted by more than 500 Georgia companies as discriminatory.
Deal's decision to kill the bill isn't a complete surprise. After it passed the legislature, he asked members to pass follow-up bills addressing concerns about access to on-campus daycare centers, spaces where high schools students can take college-level courses and where disciplinary hearings are held. They declined, saying the original bill was carefully considered.
Deal, who is in his second and final term, said last week that he would "do what's in the best interests of as many Georgians as possible."
"There's no easy option," he said.
The National Rifle Association was one of the premier lobbying groups behind the bill, and voiced their disapproval of the veto in a statement on Tuesday.
NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said the measure would have made Georgia campuses safer for Deal's constituents.
"The NRA is thankful to Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and the legislators who worked to protect law-abiding citizens' constitutional right to self-defense on campus and we look forward to working with them next session to pass this important safety legislation," Mortensen said.
The powerful governing board of the University System of Georgia opposed the so-called "campus carry" measure. All 29 public university and college presidents, along with their police chiefs, also have said they oppose the bill.
Other states have also seen praise and criticism for similar decisions, including Texas, where a prominent dean at the University of Texas left the school due to a new law effective Aug. 1 that will allow concealed handguns in school buildings and in classrooms.
Nine states currently have laws on the books allowing concealed handguns on campus, including: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee Utah and Wisconsin. According the National Conference of State Legislatures, 23 states leave the decision to ban or allow weapons up to the individual colleges and universities, and 19 states -- still including Georgia -- currently ban concealed weapons on campuses.
Supporters of the measure have said allowing students who have passed background checks to carry concealed handguns on campus would help make the environment safer, and serve as a deterrent for increased gun violence.
Opponents cited the same reasons as the governor for standing against the bill. Georgia's public colleges and universities also said they will be forced to expand their on-campus police presence and beef up security, expensive changes with no planned state funding.
Lindsey Donovan, leader of the Georgia chapter of the anti-gun violence group Moms Demand Action, said she was grateful Deal "listened to Georgia students, faculty and parents."
"The leadership shown by Governor Deal with this veto should stand as proof to other elected officials that this is not a partisan issue and that they too can stand up to the gun lobby," Donovan said. "I'm thrilled that our voices were heard and that the will of the gun lobby no longer goes unchecked in the state of Georgia."
Associated Press writer Kathleen Foody contributed to this story.