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By Eric Stirgus October 1, 2013

Group blames Deal for bill defeat

Gov. Nathan Deal has typically received high marks from gun advocacy groups, so we were surprised by a flier one group put together that accused him of derailing pro-gun legislation earlier this year.

"Nathan Deal killed pro-gun bills in 2013. Will he do it again in 2014?" the flier read with a photo of the governor.

Next to the photo were several demands.

"No new mental health mandates. No new mandatory training requirements. No Gun Control, No Deals!"

The fliers were paid for by Georgia Gun Owners, which describes itself on its website as "the ONLY no-compromise, no-sell out grassroots gun organization in the State of Georgia."

So, we wondered, what pro-gun bills did the governor eliminate this year?

Patrick Parsons, the executive director of Georgia Gun Owners, talked about the matter with the Atlanta-based weekly Creative Loafing.

"Governor Deal, his staff, and others worked behind the scenes to water down pro-gun bills," Parsons said. "They wanted to run out the clock. And that's exactly what they did. We want the governor to publicly support passage of clean, pro-gun bills, not bills watered down with anti-gun amendments."

The group handed out fliers in August at the governor’s "Grillin' with the Governor" event at Lake Lanier.

Deal is facing a quandary, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted in April after two pro-gun bills were not passed during this year’s legislative session. The governor doesn’t want to be labeled as an obstructionist among gun supporters and have new conservative enemies during his re-election bid next year.

"We do think that over this next recess period that there will be an opportunity to bring the different points of view together in a more orderly fashion than the last few days of the session allowed," Deal told the AJC. "And perhaps some middle ground can be found."

PolitiFact Georgia wanted to find out more about the veracity of the group’s claim. Parsons said he would provide information to back up the claim in the flier. PolitiFact Georgia called and emailed Georgia Gun Owners four times over the past month, but we did not get a response. We even took a drive to Kennesaw to the address listed on the organization’s website. The address was a UPS store.

Brian Robinson, the communications director for the governor, said he was baffled by the claim.

The fliers are apparently focused on two bills that included language concerning firearms training and gun laws for anyone with a mental illness.

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Republican lawmakers pushed legislation during this year’s legislative session that would allow concealed weapons in new locations, including the more than 50 campuses of the state's university and technical college systems. Current Georgia law permits students to keep firearms locked in vehicles in university parking lots, but nowhere else. Two bills aimed at easing some restrictions concerning guns on campus, House Bill 512 and Senate Bill 101, passed their respective chambers with some tweaks to the legislation. Neither bill, however, reached the governor’s desk for his signature.

The Georgia Board of Regents, which provides oversight for the University System of Georgia, fought the bills. So, too, did University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby, a former legislator who still holds sway in the Legislature.

Deal had concerns about some parts of the legislation, the AJC reported.

On March 13, the newspaper reported that the governor offered support for only one portion of the bill that would strengthen the rules about how people with mental illness qualify for a weapons "carry" license. "It expands the population who will be flagged by an instant background check, which the governor believes will protect innocent Georgians, " Robinson said at the time.

The Associated Press reported Deal’s staff forwarded an email from Huckaby to a state representative that noted that few states allow firearms on campus. The AP also reported his chief of staff made it clear in a meeting that Deal was not personally backing the proposal, although one of the governor’s Senate floor leaders was backing the bill. Deal’s staff said the lawmaker was backing it for his own reasons.

House and Senate leaders worked on a compromise of their respective bills to come up with something that both chambers and Deal could support during the final two weeks of the session. On March 28, the final day of the session, the negotiations continued near midnight. No bill was passed. Sine die.

"We thought we had a deal," the AJC quoted an exasperated Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, chairman of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

Powell said in March that House and Senate negotiators had agreed, after Deal stepped in, to allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry weapons on college campuses with the stipulation that permit holders between the ages of 21 and 25 would have to complete an eight-hour safety course first. Senators then told House negotiators that they wanted to require anyone, regardless of age, to complete the safety course before being allowed to carry a firearm on campus.

"We had a conflict over some of the language that the Senate was opposed to," Powell told PolitiFact Georgia.

Some lawmakers have said they oppose any mandatory training.

Powell took issue with the description in the flier that the bills had been killed.

"Those bills are still alive and well and still kicking," Powell told us, adding they could be adopted in 2014.

Powell said the governor did not talk to him about anything in the legislation. Powell said Georgia Gun Owners "blamed our committee for a lot of things that were not correct."

To sum up, Georgia Gun Owners claimed Deal killed some pro-gun bills earlier this year. It does appear from public statements from Deal’s office earlier this year that he was concerned about some elements of the bills under consideration. So, too, were other key voices. House and Senate lawmakers are still debating the matter six months later.

The flier suggests the failure of these bills to pass earlier this year was the governor’s fault. We think that’s a bit of a stretch. Our rating: Mostly False.

Our Sources

Georgia Gun Owners flier.

Creative Loafing, "Firearms group claims Deal isn't 'pro-gun' enough, claims his supporters destroyed its flyers," Aug. 13, 2013.

The Associated Press, "Deal walked delicate line on Ga. gun bills," April 4, 2013.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution Political Insider blog, "How state lawmakers might avoid a guns-on-campus fight," Sept. 25, 2013.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution, "Ga. gun overhaul now rests with Deal," April 13, 2013.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution, " 'Campus carry' stops gun bill," March 29, 2013.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution, "Gun bill opposition builds," March 13, 2013.

Georgia House Bill 512.

Georgia Senate Bill 101.

Telephone interview with Rep. Alan Powell, chairman, House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, Sept. 24, 2013.

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