Conservatives and Second Amendment activists cast House Bill 859 as a crucial measure for members of the school community to protect themselves. Opponents, including the University System of Georgia chancellor and presidents of the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, said the measure would make it harder for campus police to protect the community.
If gun violence on college campuses was the motivation for the bill, the General Assembly should consider stiffer penalties for unauthorized possession or use of firearms on college campuses, Deal said.
"If the intent of HB 859 is to increase safety of students on college campuses, it is highly questionable that such would be the result," Deal said in a statement. "From the early days of our nation and state, colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed. To depart from such time honored protections should require overwhelming justification. I do not find that such justification exists."
The measure would have allowed anyone 21 or older with a weapons license to carry a gun anywhere on public colleges or university campuses except for dormitories, fraternities and sorority houses and athletic events. The Republican governor asked the General Assembly to exempt on-campus day care centers, university disciplinary hearings and faculty and administrative offices.
When the assembly failed to address his requests the second-term governor faced a difficult decision weeks after vetoing another controversial piece of legislation
, the religious liberty bill.
"We commend Gov. Deal for recognizing the concerns powerfully voiced by those within the campus community in Georgia -- the very people most impacted by this bad bill, and who, unlike the state legislature, are in the best position to determine how to most effectively address public safety on campus," said Kathryn Grant, Southeast Region Director of Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus.
State Rep. Rick Jasperse, the primary sponsor of HB 859, said he received no heads up from Deal's office that the veto was coming.
"I'm disappointed, of course, in the veto," said Jasperse, a Republican. "I thought we had made a very good case to the legislature and the public."
Without elaborating, Jasperse said this was not the last of the measure.
"Don't let the fear of striking out keep you from swinging the bat."
Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston said he was disappointed by the veto and called the measure "sound and reasonable."
"At a time when our Second Amendment rights are under attack, I believed and still believe that it is very important that we do all that is necessary and proper to strengthen our constitutional protections. Georgians should not be required to give up their constitutional rights when they set foot on a college campus.
Among those who spoke against the bill were University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank M. Huckaby and R.E.M. front man Michael Stipe.
Huckaby told the house Judiciary Committee that he understood both sides of the argument but still opposed the legislation. He said Georgia's university students already enjoyed the protection of well-trained police forces, whose jobs could be made more difficult if the bill becomes law.
"Our campus police officers will tell you that allowing students to have firearms on campus makes their job extremely challenging, particularly if an extreme emergency were to occur," he said.
Stipe, in an impassioned op-ed
for USA Today, reminisced about how he met his bandmates on the University of Georgia campus and said he worried how life on campuses might change if students were allowed to bring guns.
Consider the prominence of alcohol at parties and tailgates, he said, also raising the specter of a sex assault survivor facing an armed perpetrator in disciplinary hearings.
"I'm worried about classrooms. If students are debating a contested subject -- which is crucial to learning and expanding their worldviews -- I worry what will happen to that open and honest conversation when the participants know that the people around them could have loaded guns in their backpacks," he wrote.