Opinion - Veto Campus Carry

Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the 'religious liberty' bill and should do the same with the dangerous gun bill

On March 28, Gov. Nathan Deal stood in the ceremonial governor's office and did the right thing. Deal announced he would veto House Bill 757, a controversial piece of "religious liberty" legislation that opponents claimed would have effectively legalized discrimination based on religious views. The governor said his actions were "not just about protecting the faith-based community or providing a business-friendly climate for job growth in Georgia. This is about the character of our state and the character of its people." He was right.

After weeks of pressure from human rights organizations, movie studios, and corporate giants, one of the most unnecessary and divisive issues that had popped up in Georgia was shot down. Just a few days earlier, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a bill prohibiting transgender people from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex and blocked cities from passing non-discrimination ordinances. The outcry and exodus by the business community has been strong to say the least.

Another bill awaits Deal's signature, this time to legalize concealed firearms on Georgia university campuses. HB 859, or Campus Carry as it's come to be known, would allow licensed gun owners 21 years or older to tote their weapons in classrooms, day cares, and virtually everywhere on campus except athletic events, student housing, and fraternity and sorority houses. Many students, professors, and members of the Board of Regents, the body that governs the state's public colleges and universities, have protested the measure, concerned for the safety of those working and learning on campuses across the state.

In a front-page editorial in February, UGA student paper the Red & Black confronted the bill's safety claims: "Supporters of the bill suggest that campus carry would increase the safety of campus. However, of the states that have implemented such a system, there is no data to suggest violence on campus has been reduced. A study conducted by Texas A&M — which is in a state with a campus carry law — found no correlation whatsoever between concealed carry laws and crime on campus."

Even Deal, who showed some early signs of support for the bill, ultimately expressed concern with the final language. As with the religious freedom legislation, Deal asked legislators to amend Campus Carry's scope. In handwritten letters to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston, Deal requested that they revise to keep the weapons ban on child care centers, office spaces, and disciplinary hearings. But as with the religious freedom legislation, lawmakers refused to budge.

In both instances, Deal has weighed the consequences of polarizing legislation rather than offering knee-jerk approval to his party's pet projects. Deal showed he could prioritize the well-being of the many over the special interests of the few when he vetoed the "religious liberty" legislation. He should apply the same thinking here and veto the broad and dangerous Campus Carry bill.

Another veto on what's considered a conservative-friendly bill by Deal, who has said he's retiring from politics when his second and final term ends in 2019, would likely be met with backlash. There's a good chance state lawmakers would try to override a veto when the Legislature convenes next January. Or a few vocal members could call for a special session before then, similar to what happened after the governor nixed the religious liberty legislation. We say let them do so. Government can be messy and a transparent dialogue is healthy. If conservative lawmakers want to continue spending their oxygen on guns on campuses rather than solutions for their communities and the state as a whole, that's their decision. Maybe while they're drafting the next round of legislation they can include the Gold Dome in the list of places people can carry guns. Georgia gun legislation always manages to omit the Capitol.

Deal exercised good judgment on religious liberty and criminal justice reform (we're still waiting for action on other important issues such as Medicaid expansion). We hope he'll show it again and push lawmakers to try and address how to increase safety on campus. Directly addressing rape and sexual assaults would be a good place to start. Much like with religious liberty, Georgia is stepping out in a void. It is dangerously close to approving a policy that would increase the number of lethal weapons on campuses when there's little research saying doing so actually makes a difference. It is the wrong move to make.