ATLANTA - Republican lawmakers abandoned a push Tuesday to decriminalize carrying a gun on Georgia's college campuses as they try to rally support for legislation that would allow firearms in churches, bars and arm school teachers.
State Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, made the concession over college campuses as a political compromise and a tactic to pressure the Senate into taking up the gun legislation.
The original proposal approved by House lawmakers is now being considered by the Senate. It would have made carrying a gun on campus a civil violation punishable by a maximum $100 fine rather than a crime. University and college officials in Georgia have strongly opposed weakening prohibitions on weapons, including a failed plan last year that would have let students with a state-issued license to carry to bring their weapons onto campus.
Powell said trying to overcome opposition from the University System of Georgia would have been difficult.
"They are a fourth branch of government," he said. "They carry an enormous amount of influence."
After last year's fight, university officials have avoided publicly criticizing the plan. However, records obtained by The Associated Press under Georgia's open records law show that university system officials still have some concerns.
"While there isn't a blanket campus-carry provision, there are a few provisions that will likely need monitoring at best and action on our part at worst," said Daryl Griswold, the university system's assistant vice chancellor for legal affairs, in a Jan. 29 email.
The changes reflect delicate gun politics for Republican lawmakers in Georgia. GOP politicians in the House of Representatives have been more hawkish about expanding the places where people can legally carry guns, though their GOP colleagues in the state Senate have historically been more cautious. Republicans in the Senate have a strong incentive to avoid voting against firearms legislation since it alienates gun-rights supporters in the GOP.
Instead of voting against gun bills, Republican senators have typically rewritten more sweeping firearms legislation from the House so it would ultimately make few or no major changes.
But Powell's move increases the pressure on the Senate. He put much of his original plan into a different bill already approved by his Senate colleagues. He's trying to force an up-or-down vote on the gun bill, making it tougher for his opponents in the Senate to rewrite it in committee.
"There's no running and no hiding anymore," Powell said.
Other aspects of the bill expand where people can have their weapons for example, overturning blanket prohibitions on carrying them into churches and bars. School districts would be allowed to arm their employees, which supporters say would help deter attacks on teachers and students.