Armed With Knowledge

By Erin Broomell | Copy Editor

Three days after the “Campus Carry Bill” was passed by the Georgia House, I sat in a booth across from Amanda Brand, the Event Coordinator for the local chapter for gun-control activist group Moms Demand Action, discussing the ins and outs of HB 859, and what that would mean for the College of Coastal Georgia. 

At the time we spoke, the Atlanta chapter of Moms Demand Action was lobbying on the capitol steps to express opposition to the bill. Brand was feeling moved to action. 

“There is a lot of fear-mongering going on,” said Brand. “When it comes down to it, this is facts-versus-politics. And there are a lot more politics involved in guns being pushed onto campuses than there are facts.” 

Unlike Brand, I’ve never participated in any gun control activism. As a moderate, I support legislation that keeps people safe, protected and reassured, no matter the proposing party. This time, there is question concerning whether HB 859 does that. Several respondents to the survey sent out by The Crow’s Nest questioned whether the bill’s provisions could be enforced. 

“It's just too much for our campus officers to have to enforce; to make sure that guns are not being taken into areas on campus (i.e. dorms) where they should not be,” one respondent commented. “If the bill were to pass, then I think those carrying should have to report to the college they are carrying.” 

“I think that some changes need to be made to this bill,” voiced another respondent. “I think that if a student is going to conceal-carry on school property they should be required to register with the school and attend some type of safety training program. I don't feel comfortable sitting in a classroom knowing that someone next to me may be carrying a weapon without ever having been taught proper gun safety.” 

Other respondents called for eliminating the provisions that were in place, “We need protection at sporting events where we are most vulnerable!” 

Gun rights have become one of the most intensely debated issues within the United States. Complicating second-amendment matters, lawmakers have launched a tit-for-tat effort aimed at strong-arming their opposing parties. During President Barack Obama’s first term, the issue rate of new concealed-carry permits more than tripled and has continued to grow since then. For every concealed-carry permit issued, there is push for regulation. 

For every hint of increasing regulation at the federal level, there is push-back at the state level lessening gun restrictions. The recent target of strong-armed efforts in traditionally conservative states has been the university systems, whose state boards have long opposed the presence of firearms on campus. 

Following Obama’s recent executive order, which broadened background checks and required those who sell firearms to register as licensed dealers, there has been a revived push by Georgia lawmakers to allow anyone 21 or older with a concealed carry license to have a gun anywhere on a public college or university campus, except for inside dormitories, fraternities and sorority houses and at athletic events. The bill, if passed by the Georgia Senate, would also mandate that those weapons be concealed — something supporters say make it safer — since Georgia requires gun owners to apply for “concealed carry” permits that require fingerprinting and background checks. 

HB 859, otherwise known as the “Campus Carry Bill” was passed by the Georgia House on Feb. 22 and is currently awaiting the decision of the Georgia Senate. Although the Georgia Senate has voted down similar bills in the past, Republican lawmakers have cited a recent string of robberies at Georgia State University as cause to resurrect the effort. Proponents of the bill say they feel unprotected without the right to carry a firearm on person. 

“College campuses are an easy target in modern times when the presence of weapons is restricted to campus police only. Allowing students to protect themselves from a possible threat is a privilege that should have been granted long ago,” commented one survey respondent. 

“Gun-free zones do nothing for 

safety and make us all soft targets for these deranged people we've all seen on the news,” wrote another respondent. 

However, the fear-mongering falls short of convincing for others. 

“I do not believe that students with guns will keep CCGA students any safer than our campus police can do alone,” stated the respondent. “In fact, statistics show that gun owners are more likely to hurt themselves than save a life with their weapon.” 

Student petitions have already surfaced to keep the campuses of Georgia Tech and University of Georgia gun-free. Resistance by other university systems in other states, such as Texas, has moved Georgia college students to look to their own campus leaders for action. A letter accompanying a UGA petition which has collected over 1,500 signatures speaks to the leaders of Georgia public colleges and universities. 

“Although much of the University System of Georgia is against this bill, leaders such as President Morehead (of UGA), President Bud Peterson (of Georgia Tech), and the Georgia Board of Regents have not shown outright opposition for the bill. We need a stronger response from the University System of Georgia that shows their clear opposition to a campus carry bill,” the UGA petition reads. 

The College of Coastal Georgia’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations John Cornell told The Brunswick News the institution stands with the University System of Georgia Board of Regents which opposes the new legislation. CCGA complies with current laws that prohibit firearm possession in most areas on campus. 

“We support the current state law,” said Cornell. “We support the point of view of the University System of Georgia.” 

Cornell declined further comment to The Crow’s Nest, which requested information on how the bill, if passed, will affect the way campus police keep the campus secure. 

Georgia is not the first to propose such measures and, if passed by the senate, won’t be the first to enact them. As a result of recent legislation and court rulings, eight states now have provisions allowing for concealed-carry on public universities. Texas is among them. 

The Texas state legislature enacted a campus carry bill that will go into effect Aug. 1. Currently, University of Texas (Austin) faculty is adopting new policies in response. UT Administration has urged faculty to use caution when discussing sensitive topics, drop certain topics from their curriculum, limit student access off hours and/or go to appointment-only office hours. Fritz Steiner, dean of the Texas School of Architecture recently left his position at UT for the University of Pennsylvania citing the new law as the cause. 

Austin Professors Lisa Moore and Matthew Valentine recently published an article on TribTalk, a publication of the Texas Tribune. The article spoke of the forcible tactics lawmakers in her state are using. 

“The UT faculty council overwhelmingly supported a resolution opposing guns in classrooms,” the professors wrote. “So did the graduate students association. The student body president lampooned campus carry in an editorial. Every member of the president’s (UT) working group on campus carry is on the record opposing guns in classrooms. So is Fenves (UT President)...forty-two academic departments and programs have published statements opposing guns in classrooms; zero have published in favor. None of this matters, though, because the Legislature (Texas) never intended to give any meaningful autonomy to public universities in determining the implementation of campus carry.” 

With responses like these visible in the eye of the Georgia State Legislature, it reveals Georgia lawmakers’ willingness to risk swapping uncensored education and student access to professors for the ability to keep guns on person. 

While no one can specifically predict the consequences of such laws for Georgia universities, statistically campus crime has not declined in any state that has adopted campus carry. In fact, the only thing campus carry laws have effectively improved is the amount of anti-gun discourse among administration, faculty, students, parents and prospective students. 

Aside from brewing backlash, HB 859 has other design flaws as well. Although the idea concealed carry will enable campus police to verify that the carrier has a permit, the ability for campus police to do so is limited. In Georgia, law enforcement officers can call the issuing authority to verify the status of resident permits. However, law enforcement may not be able to instantly validate a permit because permit issuing authorities generally operate during normal business hours. This means that if campus security wanted to verify a student’s after 5 p.m., weekends or government holidays they would not be able to do so. 

As noted by many respondents, there is also no gun safety training requirement in Georgia to receive a concealed weapons permit. As for states that do have training requirements, even the most stringent do not have active-shooter training. This bill doesn’t just allow students to carry a firearm onto campus; the very existence may encourage, or even pressure, conceal-carry students to act in high-pressure situations for which they may not be trained. 

If lawmakers’ efforts are truly aligned with protecting college students, they should be working with the University System of Georgia to ensure all students, faculty, and staff feel safe. In addition, leaders of Georgia’s higher education system should work to educate lawmakers and students about other measures they're taking on campus safety, like threat assessment, behavioral intervention teams and crisis response protocols, so that state officials, students, parents and future students don't assume schools haven’t done everything they can to ensure campus security. 

HB 859 has been scheduled for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, March 2, at 3 p.m. This is the last stop in the committee process before the bill either does or does not go to the Senate floor for a vote. The UGA petition can be found at Change.org. For more information on Moms Demand Action please visit www.momsdemandaction.org. For future updates on the “Campus Carry Bill” and how it applies to College of Coastal Georgia, please visit www. ccga-crowsnest.com.