ATLANTA -- Anyone licensed to carry a gun in Georgia could carry concealed handguns on public college campuses under a bill passed Monday by the Georgia House.
Athletic facilities and student housing, including sorority and fraternity houses, would be exempt.
The state's powerful Board of Regents, which governs the University System of Georgia, has long opposed changes to existing law that prevents weapons on its campuses.
The House passed the bill, 113 to 59, despite that objection.
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Several recent armed robberies at the library on the Georgia State University campus in downtown Atlanta renewed backers' argument for carrying on campuses. Rep. Rick Jasperse, the bill's sponsor, said the change would prevent Georgians from becoming victims of crime on college or university campuses.
"We can put our heads in the sand and say nothing is happening but the numbers don't lie," Jasperse said.
State Rep. Patty James Bentley, D-Butler, represents the area that includes Fort Valley State University. She said the change would make campuses more dangerous, particularly for women.
It could lead to arming "predators" who use violence and drugs to sexually assault women, Bentley said. And it "will endanger our students ... particularly those in abusive relationships and could cost Georgia students their lives."
State Rep. Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins, has been a vocal supporter of the bill.
He said there are already guns on campuses and they're used by criminals.
A vote for the bill, Clark said, is a vote "to allow people to defend themselves."
Macon-Bibb and Houston legislators split their votes on party lines. State Rep. Rusty Kidd, an independent from Milledgeville, joined Republicans in voting for it.
Existing law requires license applicants to be at least 21 years old and complete a background check; people are ineligible based on hospitalization for mental health or alcohol or drug abuse in the past five years or because of conviction for certain felonies or misdemeanors.
Democrats argued that higher education officials should make campus security decisions, not lawmakers. Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, said the change would breed "fear and paranoia" among students on campuses.
"No one needs a Ph.D. to understand that introducing guns among binge-drinking, drug-using, hormone-raging college students is not good policy," Drenner said.
The bill now goes to the state Senate for review, where its chances are unclear.
A law approved in 2014 expanding where Georgians can carry guns included college campuses when it first passed the House. But the Senate removed that provision before its own approval of the bill.
Telegraph writer Maggie Lee contributed to this report.