Unlike the prior attempts to allow firearms on campuses, House Bill 859 successfully reached the House floor, where it passed Feb. 22 by a 113-59 vote. The bill then moved to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which reported favorably on the bill March 7 before it passed on the Senate Floor March 11.
Despite a consistent effort by legislators to enact campus carry, many directly affected by the bill, including students, professors, faculty and campus police, have expressed mixed reactions to allowing guns on campus.
On March 3 at Walker’s Coffee and Pub a group of University of Georgia students gathered to discuss action to take toward banning the bill. Cali Callaway, a junior majoring in biology, organized the event in opposition of the bill.
“This is a place of learning when it comes down to it,” Callaway said. “There are a lot of studies that show as soon as you bring a gun to the classroom, professors are a lot less likely to bring up controversial topics, they feel conversation is stifled, it changes the dynamic of the classroom when they know their students are armed.”
Students were not the only participants in the event. Ivan Ingermann, an associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Film studies, arrived at the meeting with a box of t-shirts with large red Xs on the front, expressing opposition to the bill.
“I have just come out of a faculty meeting, and while I don’t want to speak for the other faculty, there is a lot of the same sentiment,” Ingermann said. “I have tenure here, and I like Athens, I like UGA, but if I’m going to be in an environment where I feel unsafe, yes if I hear of another position that’s open at a school that doesn’t have carry laws then I’m going to consider that move.”
Students have also used social media to express their opinion of the bill. Paul Oshinski, a sophomore political science major from Decatur, started the a UGA petition against Campus Carry Change.org three weeks ago and has amassed over 7,300 signatures so far.
“I agree with the Second Amendment, but I just don’t think universities and colleges are the right place for carrying a gun around,” he said. “An academic campus is first and foremost a place of learning. I think people having guns and carrying them around in classrooms, libraries, wherever, kind of compromises the learning environment that we have here. it promotes a lot of fear rather than actually feeling safe.” Oshinski later testified in front of the Georgia Senate Judiciary Board on March 2.
In a recent anonymous online poll conducted by The Red & Black with students at the University of Georgia, roughly 62 percent of the over 400 respondents said they do not support campus carry, while 37 percent said they do support campus carry. And when offered the ability to comment, both sides of the debate surfaced.
“My constituents are also the parents of the students who go to Georgia State University and Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia and other campuses across the states. Those are the ones that I hear from, and I respect their concerns."
-David Ralston, speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives
Students in favor of the legislation said the ability to carry offered the ability for students to defend themselves, that “with all of the domestic terror and other threats, campus police cannot be everywhere all the time, [so] students need to be allowed to defend themselves.”
This is a common argument amongst those in support of the bill. Luke Crawford, assistant director of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, said “at the age of 21 we are able to carry everywhere else but on a college campus. It’s confusing and disheartening to us that just as a college student our second amendment right is taken away in that way.”
Some respondents argued against the idea of carrying leading to increased crime, saying “the people that go out and obtain permits aren’t bad people. They are less likely to commit crimes.”
“People who want to shoot up a campus will still bring their gun, regardless of it being illegal,” one respondent said.
“Citizens that possess a weapons carry permit are one of the most law-abiding segments of the population,” said another respondent.
Still, many opposed to campus carry mentioned the number of recent mass shootings, particularly on college campuses.
“Guns and dumb college kids don’t mix,” said another respondent.
One particular respondent said he “wouldn’t feel safer with guns on campus” for personal reasons.
“I grew up in Blacksburg, Virginia. I was in 6th grade when the Virginia Tech massacre rocked my town. My friends and classmates lost parents,” the respondent said. “You’d think [allowing guns on campus] would make someone like me feel safer, but it wouldn’t. That increases the risk of ‘vigilantes’ in cases where there isn’t an actual threat.”
Others argue armed student intervention in an emergency would do more harm than good.
“I think having more guns in a school shooter situation would make the police’s job extremely difficult and might prolong the event and cause more death,” one respondent said. “As of now, if the police see someone with a gun on campus, they know it’s a problem. With campus carry, they can’t know until someone is shot already.”
The UGA Police Department declined to comment about how campus carry would impact emergency response.
Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Scott Freeman also declined to comment on how the pending campus carry bill would affect carrying in Athens-Clarke County or how the enforcement between ACCPD and UGA Police would work.
Some respondents said if the bill is signed into law, it might impact their decision to attend a Georgia college.
“Honestly, I would not want to come to school here anymore if this bill gets passed,” one respondent said.
A Firm Stance
While poll results show a divide among students on the issue, the University of Georgia administration and police have taken a firm stance.
In his petition, Oshinski said Chief of UGA Police Jimmy Williamson, along with other campus police chiefs in the state, opposed the campus carry bill in 2013, arguing it “inhibited their job of keeping campuses safe.” University Police declined to comment on pending legislation.
In addition to campus police, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia has long opposed campus carry. USG Chancellor Hank Huckaby testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee March 2, where he presented a case for the current restrictions on firearms on campuses.
Photo by Abby Weeks
“The Board of Regents, our 29 presidents, our campus police chiefs and many parents support the current firearm law for our campuses,” he said. “We feel strongly that current law strikes the right balance between creating a safe environment on our campuses while affording those individuals who are carry users a safeguard location,” a position Huckaby said was supported by “the experience of campus presidents and campus public safety departments, who are closest to the day-to-day realities and operations of the state’s public colleges and universities.”
Huckaby emphasized that “students and faculty at our institutions are served and protected by trained, [Peace Officer Standards and Training Council] certified police forces,” and “our campus police officers will tell you that allowing students to have firearms on campus makes their job extremely challenging, particularly if an extreme emergency were to occur.”
Later that same day, UGA President Jere Morehead sent out an Archnews email to all students, including Huckaby’s testimony, “which I support.”
Increased Domestic Violence
“As a female student, the incidence of sexual violence on campus already makes it a real threat and valid fear,” one respondent said. “The possibility for students, who will most likely be men, to carry weapons on campus makes the fear of such incidence greater.”
Mahroh Jahangiri, deputy director of Know Your Title IX, a national organization which aims to educate students and end sexual and dating violence, said while some support the bill because they believe it would keep them safe, bringing guns onto campus ultimately poses a danger in situations of intimate partner violence.
“Some proponents of these dangerous bills have suggested that allowing students to carry guns would protect them from becoming victims of sexual assault. This could not be further from the truth,” Jahangiri said.
Some female students disagreed with Jahangiri’s perspective, however.
“If this bill passes, I would carry on campus when I’m 21. Knowing that I am armed and able to defend myself when I’m walking around campus makes me feel safer as a woman and a student,” said one respondent to the poll.
For Joan Prittie, the executive director of Project Safe, a local nonprofit working to end domestic violence, having guns for protection doesn’t translate in situations of intimate partner violence.
“In terms of issues of intimate partner violence, it’s quite a bit different,” Prittie said. “Having greater and easier access to firearms when there is domestic violence in a relationship makes the victim in that relationship less safe.”
"Some proponents of these dangerous bills have suggested that allowing students to carry guns would protect them from becoming victims of sexual assault. This could not be further from the truth."
-Mahroh Jahangiri, deputy director of Know Your Title IX
For Jahangiri and KYIX, keeping guns off of Georgia campuses is about the safety of all students.
“Lifting campus gun bans will endanger students — particularly those in abusive relationships — and could cost Georgia students their lives,” Jahangiri said.
A large number of intimate partner homicides are with a gun, Prittie said.
A 2015 study by the Violence Policy Center “When Men Murder Women,” ranked Georgia as number 17 on its list of states with the highest homicide rate where men kill women in single victim, single offender crimes. That ranking is down from number nine in 2014 study.
According to the 2014 Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project, a study coordinated by the Georgia Commission on Family Violence and the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, overwhelmingly guns were at the center of the domestic violence fatalities.
Firearms were the cause of death in 66 percent of the domestic violence fatalities in 2014, according to the review.
“Greater than all other methods combined, firearms are the leading causes of deaths for victims in reviewed cases,” according to the review.
Passage Despite Concern
“Every professor I’ve talked to has opposed this bill, as well as the entire University System of Georgia, the Board of Regents...and polls at other colleges like Georgia Tech have shown that most people oppose this bill,” said one poll respondent. “So my question is why the Georgia House thinks it’s a good idea to pass this bill when the people who know Georgia colleges best oppose it.”
David Ralston, speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, who came out publicly in support of the bill, said armed robberies at Georgia State University “have really raised the profile of the issue [and] got a lot of people around the state concerned about the issue.”
“My constituents are also the parents of the students who go to Georgia State University and Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia and other campuses across the states. Those are the ones that I hear from, and I respect their concerns,” Ralston said.
Ralston also said “high-profile incidents of violence” such as the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and December 2015 shootings in San Bernardino “makes people pause and ask why we should deny constitutional rights at the campus boundary.”
In response to President Morehead and Chancellor Huckaby’s statements on campus carry, Ralston said he “would respectfully disagree,” arguing “bad guys are going to have guns and they are going to take them on college campuses” and restricting gun ownership “does nothing to take handguns out of the hands of bad guys.”
“I think police officers will tell you, again, that it’s not the law-abiding citizen that has gotten a permit, who is complying by the law that they worry about. It is the guy who shouldn’t have a gun that they worry about,” Ralston said. “And so that’s the threat to police officers.”
When asked about the responses to The Red & Black’s poll, Ralston said he does not make decisions based on polls.
“I make decisions based on hearing concerns and determining whether those concerns are valid and whether there is an appropriate response that we need to take here in the General Assembly,” he said.
Two days after the interview with Speaker Ralston, the legislation passed in the Senate.
Governor Deal’s signature will be the final step in deciding whether the Campus Carry Bill will become law.