In 2014, Georgia legislators passed a dangerous so-called “guns everywhere” law that allowed guns in a slew of sensitive locations, including bars, and that expanded Georgia’s dangerous Stand Your Ground law.
Fast forward to the 2016 legislative session and this time around the gun lobby aggressively pushed to force colleges to allow guns on their campuses, one of the places not covered by the 2014 legislation. For most of the session, it appeared the NRA and their local allies would win. Indeed, as recently as late February, Governor Nathan Deal publicly indicated some support for the policy of allowing guns on campus.
But Tuesday, in a radical departure from his statements from just two months earlier, Governor Deal changed his mind. In a thoughtful and eloquent statement explaining why he was vetoing the bill, Deal explained that, “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.”
Given the Governor’s unexpected and unlikely veto, it’s worth asking: what exactly happened between late February and early May that prompted an NRA-backed, Republican executive in a state with high rates of gun ownership to so forcefully push back on the gun lobby’s top priority in Georgia?
The answer seems clear.
Overwhelming opposition to the bill from Georgia voters.
After the legislature sent the bill to the Governor’s desk in mid March, the Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, along with its coalition partners, led a relentless, 40-day campaign aimed at pressuring Governor Deal to veto the legislation. More than 7,000 people called Deal’s office. More than 6,000 sent e-mails. The Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action and other local groups on the ground delivered more than 30,000 petition signatures to the governor’s office. Television, print, and digital ads hit the state’s airwaves, newspapers and websites. Rallies were held, letters to the editor submitted. Local artists, including REM’s Michael Stipe, spoke out forcefully urging the Governor to veto the bill.
Campus stakeholders from across the state – faculty and students from Georgia Tech to The University of Georgia and University of North Georgia to Georgia Southern – all asked the Governor to do what was best for college communities rather than do what was desired by the gun lobby.
And in the end, he did.
The veto in Georgia represents yet another instance in which overwhelming intensity from an ascendant movement of gun violence prevention advocates has prompted a lawmaker to stand up to the gun lobby. Governor Deal’s veto also serves as evidence that, even in red states, voters favor commonsense gun safety measures and that the enthusiasm gap between supporters of the gun lobby and gun safety advocates has narrowed considerably in just the last two years.
Guns on campus is a gun lobby priority. Guns on campus bills have been introduced this year in 17 states. So far nine states – Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Kentucky and West Virginia – have rejected the bills. Tennessee is the only state to pass a guns on campus bill, and while it’s a dangerous policy, it is more limited in scope and one that the Governor was not even willing to put his name on. Last year, 18 states considered guns on campus legislation. Texas was the only state to pass the measure and even there the bill was so watered down that one gun lobby group characterized it as a loss.
The voices of everyday Americans, who overwhelmingly want commonsense gun safety legislation, are finally being heard.