Ruling Settles Georgia's Guns-in-Schools Debate

by | November 2, 2016 AT 12:00 PM

By Rhonda Cook

Guns cannot be carried onto school property unless someone is picking up or dropping off a student, the state's top court ruled Monday.

The unanimous decision from the Georgia Supreme Court was a blow to gun rights advocates and made clear that when two laws conflict, it's the one the governor signs last that stands.

At issue were pair of bills passed by the state Legislature in 2014.

House Bill 826 allowed licensed gun owners to bring their weapons onto school property. House Bill 60 said the only time guns are allowed on school property is when someone is dropping off or picking up a student; otherwise guns on school property were specifically prohibited.

Gov. Nathan Deal signed HB 826 on April 22, 2014. The next day he signed HB 60, which specifically prohibited guns inside school safety zones except when picking up or dropping off.

"It wasn't really unexpected," John Monroe, the attorney for the gun rights group which brought the case to the Supreme Court, said of the decision.

He noted that Deal had vetoed this year legislation that would have allowed guns on 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. It's just an emotional reaction."

The case ended up in court after the Code Revision Commission, which cleans up and revises the Georgia Code after each legislative session, determined that HB 60 was the law because the governor signed it last.

GeorgiaCarry.0rg and two fathers in Gwinnett and Fulton Counties sued.

Phillip Evans said in his case he wanted to bring a gun when he attended functions at Centerville Elementary School in Snellville.

James Johnson filed a similar suit, saying he wanted to bring his 9 mm Smith and Wesson when he went to his children's activities at New Prospect Elementary School in Alpharetta. "As a parent, it's my responsibility to look out for my family," Johnson said at the time.

Johnson and Evans said they were confused as to when a licensed gun owner could bring a gun to their children's schools. They are concerned they could be charged with misdemeanors if they bring firearms to school events.

The justices said Monday it all came down to timing.

Since the two laws "cannot 'reasonably stand together,' the later enacted bill controls," the court ruled. "We agree with the trial court's conclusion that their provisions relating to the carrying of weapons within a school safety zone are in irreconcilable conflict."

(c)2016 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)