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Georgia Supreme Court Limits Public School Campus Carry

Written by: Eric Hoffman, Esq.

On Monday October 31, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously held that firearms cannot be carried onto public K-12 school property unless the licensed gun owner is picking up or dropping off a student. In GeorgiaCarry.org v. Code Revision Commission, the Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Hugh Thompson, upheld a Fulton County Judge’s dismissal of a suit filed by GeorgiaCarry to challenge a decision of Georgia’s Code Revision Commission restricting such use. At issue were two bills passed by the Georgia legislature in 2014. Both bills attempted to amend O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127.1 to allow licensed gun owners to carry firearms onto school property. House Bill 826 allowed registered gun owners to carry guns onto school property without limitation, while House Bill 60 limited the time that guns could be carried onto K-12 public school property to drop off and pick up. Governor Nathan Deal signed HB 826 into law on April 22, 2014 and HB 60 the following day.

Under O.C.G.A. § 28-9-5(b), when two bills are in obvious conflict and cannot both be given effect, the last one signed into law controls. Based on that statute, the Code Revision Commission ruled that HB 60 controlled, thus limiting K-12 campus carry to drop off and pick up times only. In February 2015, GeorgiaCarry brought suit against the Code Revision Commission, individual members of the House and Senate, and Governor Deal seeking a writ of mandamus to have the law republished consistent with HB 826’s more expansive language and to decriminalize the carrying of weapons on school grounds. Both the Commission and Governor Deal moved to dismiss GeorgiaCarry’s suit. The trial court granted the motions to dismiss and GeorgiaCarry appealed.

The Supreme Court unanimously held that the language of HB 60 effectively repealed HB 826 citing O.C.G.A. § 28-9-5(b), which states when two bills are clearly contradictory, the later enacted bill controls. The Court found the relevant provisions of the two Bills were in conflict so the later passed bill controlled. In so holding, the Court did not reach the substantive merits of campus carry in a K-12 school context and made their decision on a solely statutory procedural basis. In an article published by the Tribune News Service, counsel for GeorgiaCarry said the Court’s decision “wasn’t really unexpected,” and noted that Governor Deal recently vetoed legislation that would allow concealed carry on Georgia’s public college campuses. “There’s not fundamentally a difference in theories between school carry and campus carry . . . People have an emotional knee-jerk reaction to the idea of campus carry in any context.” (Rhonda Cook, “Ruling Settles Georgia’s Guns-in-Schools Debate” November 2, 2016, http://www.governing.com/topics/public-justice-safety/tns-georgia-guns-schools-ruling.html).

The Court’s opinion can be found here: http://www.gasupreme.us/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/s16a1045.pdf