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No storage, signs on Georgia campuses as gun ban lifts

ATLANTA (AP) — Students returning to Georgia’s university campuses won’t find gun storage facilities or signs this fall after a new state law permitting concealed handguns at the schools takes effect, officials said Wednesday.

Guidance released to students and staff at all 28 public colleges sought to answer some of the questions that have bubbled up since Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill earlier this month.

In a message to faculty and students, Chancellor Steve Wrigley acknowledged “strong feelings” about the change, which the university system and campus law enforcement opposed.

“Yet, whether you opposed or supported the legislation, it will soon be state law, and I respectfully ask everyone to exercise patience, understanding and respect as we implement it,” Wrigley wrote. “We all share the same goal of ensuring a safe campus environment. We should work together to implement the law as written and thoughtfully address any complications that may arise.”

Lawmakers gave no specific instructions on how campuses should implement the law, unlike other states where schools had some leeway. The legislation did contain an array of exempted spaces, leaving University System of Georgia leaders to sort out the details before the law takes effect July 1.

Georgia joins nine other states that allow concealed weapons to be carried on campuses. Permit-holders must be at least 21 — or at least 18 with proof of basic training or active service in the military. Applicants must provide fingerprints for a criminal record check and undergo an additional federal background check.

The law excludes on-campus preschools, faculty or administrative offices, disciplinary hearings and classrooms being used by high school students taking college courses. Also off-limits to concealed weapons are dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses, and athletic facilities.

The system’s three-page guidance tried to clear up a few murky areas.

Concealed carry will be allowed in tailgate lots close to athletic facilities. Preschools will have to use staff or another security measure limiting access to the space to be considered exempt. Gun owners who want to carry will be responsible for asking campus registrars whether they share classroom space with high school students.

But campuses won’t post signs at buildings where guns remain barred or provide lockers or other storage on campuses.

The guidelines haven’t given opponents of the new law any comfort. Mallory Harris, a rising senior at the University of Georgia, said she’s particularly concerned about weapons at tailgates where some fans drink for hours before football games on the Athens campus.

“I think it’s really evident that this was a bill revised a few hours before the legislative session ended with a few changes made to get it through,” Harris, 21, said. “But those changes are superficial and it’s going to cause real headaches for the people now charged with enforcing it.”

The guidance does make clear that gun owners who choose to carry are responsible for knowing the law. Violations are misdemeanors, punishable by $25 fines and no jail time, but also may violate a school’s code of conduct for students or personnel rules.

Supporters aren’t thrilled with the many exemptions either. Some believe the law as written only exempts faculty or administrative offices during disciplinary hearings — not all the time, as the governor and university officials concluded.

Robert Eagar, southeast regional director of Students for Concealed Carry, said that point still could require legal action or more legislation. In the meantime, he said ending an on-campus gun ban is progress.

Permit-holders will have to be aware of where they can and can’t carry, just as they are off campus, Eagar said.

“There’s certainly some inconvenience,” he said. “But it’s a major step forward.”