- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia lawmakers moved one step closer to allowing licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons on public college campuses, as some other states have done, when the proposal supported by the National Rifle Association won support from a Senate panel Monday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee backed the measure permitting those with concealed weapons licenses to bring their guns onto university and college property. The bill could reach the Senate floor this week for a vote.

The Georgia House already has approved the bill. If it passes the Senate without changes, the measure would go to Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who has voiced support for the concept.

Guns would be barred from athletic facilities and student housing, including fraternity and sorority houses.

Critics called it a dangerous bill, but a co-sponsor, Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, said supporters believe it boosts the safety of college students around the state.

“There is a lot of anger and a lot of fear, but I feel like we are more about empowering students to be able to take responsibility for their personal safety,” she said.

Several amendments from bill opponent Sen. Vincent Fort were voted down. He proposed requiring citizens to provide proof of extensive firearms training before obtaining a concealed carry permit, and putting the issue before voters in a referendum.

“I’m gratified by the fact that the overwhelming majority of the people of the state of Georgia do not want campus carry,” said Fort, D-Atlanta. “It’s not just a bad idea, it’s dangerous.” Fort said the bill is being pushed by the National Rifle Association and a nonprofit pro-gun group called GeorgiaCarry.org.

As the Georgia bill moves forward, some other states have approved similar legislation in recent years.

Effective Aug. 1, the University of Texas in Austin will allow concealed handguns in school buildings and classrooms, with the exception of dorms.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, seven other states now allow people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin. The NCSL says 23 states leave the decision to ban or allow weapons up to the individual colleges and universities, and 19 states — including Georgia — currently ban concealed weapons on campuses.

Georgia’s state university system has staunchly opposed the so-called “campus carry” bill. The system has been joined by scores of advocates calling for an end to gun violence on college campuses, including the national anti-gun advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. The group said Monday that it will air a new television ad this week opposing the bill.

Fort said approval of the bill was not surprising, due to the heavy Republican support of the measure.

The committee held a hearing to discuss the bill last week, filling the room with supporters and detractors. The debate lasted for nearly three hours, and the committee didn’t vote until Monday.

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