Editor’s note: Ever since 2007 when a student at Virginia Tech shot and killed 32 people on campus, gun rights groups have lobbied state governments to allow students to carry guns so they could protect themselves from future incidents. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 such bills were introduced around the country last year. Police chiefs and college administrators generally oppose such measures, but it’s an issue that will likely be fueled by the shooting last weekend on the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara. The controversy is already playing out in Georgia, which recently passed a sweeping gun rights bill.
ATLANTA — A bill aimed at doing away with “zero tolerance” policies on school campuses may have paved the way for licensed gun owners to carry their firearms on school campuses, according to GeorgiaCarry.org.
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, or HB 60.
The lesser-known bill — HB 826, sponsored by state rep. 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.
Video by GPB News
“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.”
But Attorney General Sam Olens says licensed gun owners will not have free reign to carry weapons on campus. Both he and Gov. Nathan Deal issued statements Thursday arguing that because HB 60 was signed into law the day after HB 826, that the language restricting guns on campus will prevail.
GeorgiaCarry has vowed to file a lawsuit if guns are not allowed on campus starting July 1.
This post originally appeared on GPB’s website on May 28.