ATLANTA -- Legislation that would have relaxed some gun restrictions is being rewritten without the controversial provisions allowing Georgians 21 years and older with concealed-weapons permits to exercise that right on college campuses.
Rep. Alan Powell, chairman of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, told reporters Thursday the campus-carry provision was the major sticking point in a bill that deals with multiple aspects of Georgia's gun laws. Versions of it passed the House and Senate last year, but it ultimately stalled in the final moments of the 2013 legislative session over negotiations about the differences.
This year, legislative leaders had set the first week of the session as a deadline for the House to pass the bill. Powell said he had proposed a compromise designed to address the concerns of the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents, which voted unanimously at its January meeting to oppose any concealed weapons on campus.
The compromise would have allowed the presidents of each college or university to decide the matter. But a letter Tuesday from the legislative counsel that provides legal advice to the General Assembly warned such an opt-out option would be unconstitutional.
"By specifically delegating authority to the presidents of public colleges and universities, and thus the Board of Regents, the bill purports to give the executive branch authority over classifying activity that would constitute a criminal offense," wrote Assistant Legislative Counsel Julius Tolbert. "This appears to be the exact scenario found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Georgia in 'Sunderberg.'"
The 1975 Sunderberg case voided a law that attempted to let the State Board of Pharmacy define which specific drugs are illegal. As a result, almost yearly, the legislature votes to update the state's list of illicit drugs.
The main thrust of the new version of the bill will be to limit firearms access to people who have mental illness, such as someone who was found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity. It's a response to calls for greater restrictions on guns following Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in late 2012 where the alleged gunman was a mental patient.
"Those are exactly the people you don't want having a gun," said Powell, R-Hartwell.
He admitted some ardent gun-rights advocates would oppose that provision as well.
On the other hand, among the most conservative legislators, removing the campus-carry guarantee will also be unpopular.
"When government can't defend the people, the people have to defend themselves. We don't want to make students sitting ducks," said Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine last week.
Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News and has been covering Georgia politics since 1998. Follow him on Twitter @MorrisNews and Facebook or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and (404) 589-8424.