A bill seeking to loosen gun carry rules in Georgia's bars, churches, and college campuses cleared a House committee Thursday.
After two days of packed hearings and emotional testimony, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee voted in favor of House Bill 875. It would expand gun carry areas to bars, churches, and some government buildings.
Additionally, police would be prohibited from arresting college students who are licensed to own a gun and caught carrying on campus. A violation would be treated as a simple misdemeanor and result in a $100 fine.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, said college students have Second Amendment rights, too.
"It decriminalizes it and I think that's a key thing if you look through our bill we’re trying to decriminalize some of these things so we do allow the Georgia license holder the ability to protect himself if he so desires," said Jasperse.
Last year, college presidents across the state came out strongly against similar legislation that included campus carry. Their opposition is often cited as the main reason the bill failed.
This year, lawmakers floated the idea of an opt-in clause where college presidents could decide whether to allow permit holders to carry on campus. But legislative lawyers recently said delegating that authority to college presidents was likely unconstitutional.
Jasperse said the reduced punishment for college students is a decent compromise.
"Our feelings absolutely are that we like college campus carry...looking at different ways we can enable that to happen and this is just a method," said Jasperse.
Among other provisions in the bill include allowing K-12 school systems more discretion over whether they want guns in their schools and barring those found not guilty of a crime by way of insanity from obtaining a gun permit.
Next step for the bill is a full House vote. It would then need approval from the Senate and governor.