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School officials bristle at proposed gun bill

ATLANTA -- College presidents and student leaders bristled at a proposal Wednesday that would allow some gun owners to carry firearms on college campuses as legislators waded deeper into a vast overhaul of state gun restrictions.

The broad legislation would for the first time allow the estimated 300,000 Georgians with gun permits to carry their weapons in most public buildings, churches and even the state Capitol. It would also lift a ban on firearms in ''public gatherings,'' replacing it with a short list of restricted spots including jails, courthouses and prisons.

But the portion of the law that would allow gun owners with permits to carry in college campuses drew the most criticism at a packed hearing on the proposal at the Capitol. The state's higher education hierarchy warned the changes could lead to violence on their campuses.

''Personal disputes that today are marked by verbal arguments, or at worst a fist-fight, could well become tragically violent in a matter of seconds,'' said Daniel Kaufman, president of the Georgia Gwinnett College. His advice to lawmakers: ''If it ain't broke, don't fix it.''

Alina Staskevicius, Georgia Tech's student body president, warned that allowing guns onto college campuses could pose a risk to vulnerable students struggling with new relationships and overwhelming new atmospheres.

''It's like throwing gasoline onto the already volatile atmosphere of a college campus,'' she said. ''The risk of an explosion is too high.''

The Republican-backed measure's supporters, though, argued that allowing some gun owners to carry weapons on campus could help avert a mass shooting such as the Virginia Tech tragedy. They also contend that it could help ensure the safety of students in crime-ridden neighborhoods.

''People who intend to do ill with weapons will do it whether we have a ban on them are not,'' said Mark Hatfield, a Waycross Republican. ''Things are not always as safe as they seem.''

Both Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston have said they intend to focus the legislative session on balancing the budget and creating more jobs, but they are facing increased pressure from high-ranking politicians for a gun overhaul in each of the chambers.