Starting July 1, licensed gun owners may be able to bring their firearms onto school and college campuses in Georgia, even though the “campus carry” provision was stripped from a controversial bill that will allow guns in many churches, bars and government buildings.
That’s because a separate piece of legislation may have snuck under the radar and paved the way for campus carry after lawmakers removed it from the so-called “guns everywhere” bill (House Bill 60).
The lesser-known bill, House Bill 826 sponsored by Representative Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) is aimed at doing away with “zero tolerance” policies on school campuses. Under current Georgia law, schools are required to expel and report to police any student who brings a weapon on campus whether it be a handgun, a fishing knife or any “hazardous object” in between.
But Setzler’s legislation was designed to give school administrators, superintendents and school boards the flexibility to determine a student’s punishment on a case-by-case basis. The bill did much more than that though. Under current law, permit holders are only exempt when dropping off or picking up a student from school. Under the new law, which goes into effect July 1, lawmakers struck the language pertaining to drop-offs and pickups from the bill. As a result, licensed gun owners are exempt from any of the provisions of the bill when in a school safety zone or on a school bus. And some say that means permit holders can carry their firearms onto school property, including college campuses, at any time starting in July. "I don't think there can be any serious debate that that's what it says,” said John Monroe, an attorney for the gun rights advocacy group GeorgiaCarry.org. “I mean, that's exactly what it says is that it doesn't apply to a license holder when in a school safety zone. I don't know how much more clear that could be." Attorney General Sam Olens is reviewing the new law, which Gov. Nathan Deal signed April 22, and “will likely be issuing guidance” on the issue, according to a spokesperson who declined to elaborate. Monroe believes even if Olens agrees with GeorgiaCarry.org’s reading of the law, some will fight it. "Here's the issue: let's just say that the Attorney General comes out with an opinion this afternoon," said Monroe. "I'm sure he wouldn't mention Georgia Carry, but he essentially says, 'Georgia Carry's right. That's exactly what the law says.' I still think it's entirely possible if not probable that some college, some university, some school district, somewhere in Georgia is [going to] say, 'I don't care what the Attorney General says, you can't carry guns here.' It seems almost inevitable." If that happens, Monroe said he and Georgia Carry are already prepared to file suit. Representative Setzler has not returned a call for comment on the legislation. Both HB 60 and HB 826 go into effect July 1. NOTE: We will have more coverage on this Wednesday night on GPB's On The Story