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January 24, 2014

Lawmaker: Campus carry provision to be dropped

ATLANTA — A provision that would have allowed students to carry weapons on public college campuses will be dropped from a revised gun bill expected to be introduced soon, a key lawmaker said Thursday.

Rep. John Meadows, chair of the House Rules Committee and a lead sponsor of the bill, said in an interview the legislation will instead focus on enhancing reporting of the mentally ill and empowering local school districts to arm employees if they wish.

“I want a bill to pass and once it passes, I want it signed,” said Meadows, R-Calhoun.

Last year’s bill that would have expanded gun rights on public college campuses and in churches among other changes ultimately failed amid objections from university system officials.

Meadows said a potential compromise that would have given university presidents the option of allowing guns didn’t pass legal review.

“You can’t do it. The power designated to the General Assembly can’t be given to the university presidents,” Meadows said.

A spokesman for the university system did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal said the governor does not comment on pending legislation.

The draft bill would remove churches and places of worship from a list of prohibited locations for those carrying guns and change certain provisions relating to government buildings. For churches, Meadows said it would be up to religious leaders to decide whether to allow or prohibit guns on their property.

He said guns would be prohibited from government buildings with a metal detector, but allowed under the discretion of a local sheriff’s department for those without the enhanced security measures.  The previous version did not include a role for sheriffs.

The draft bill would also create a process for which school systems would have the ability to arm employees who have passed a criminal background check and have a carry permit. Meadows said the bill would include a mandatory method of securing the weapon either in a holster on the employee or in a secured and locked safe that cannot be accessed by students.

“We had schools that asked for this,” Meadows said. “Could one person having a gun stop some of the things that have happened over the last couple of years, about people coming into schools shooting up on kids? Maybe. Could one person have stopped some of them from losing their lives? Yep.”

Angela Palm, director of policy with the Georgia School Boards Association, said the group did not oppose the effort when it came up during last year’s legislative session.

“As long as the provisions were clear and that there was training involved, then we did not oppose it,” said Palm, who has not seen a copy of the draft bill. “We favor local control and local boards being able to make decisions and this falls into that category.

On the mental health issue, Meadows said the bill would prohibit those who are deemed by a court mentally incompetent to stand trial and those found not guilty by reason of insanity from obtaining a carry permit. That was also included in last year’s bill.

Meadows said the revised bill would also change state law on bringing guns to an airport, making it illegal only if a person “knowingly” possessed it and would set certain limits on possible fines and jail time if convicted. Meadows said that was aimed at reducing penalties for those who did not intend to bring a gun with them to the airport.

Other elements of the revised bill would reiterate a person’s right to own a gun in public housing, would allow a military veteran under the age of 21 who was honorably discharged and seeking work as a security agent to obtain a carry permit and would remove a fingerprint requirement for renewing a carry permit.

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