A new law affording Georgia citizens additional gun rights may grant students at the University of Georgia greater leeway with firearms.
House Bill 60, or the “guns everywhere bill” signed by Gov. Nathan Deal last spring, took effect July 1 and grants citizens with gun licenses the right to carry concealed firearms in bars and churches with the permission of the owner, as well as in government buildings without security screenings.
But when it comes to college campuses, the open carry policy is not as open as people may think.
Georgia attorney general Sam Olens said HB 60 includes a “general prohibition against carrying weapons in a school safety zone (which includes the real property or buildings of public or private elementary schools, secondary schools, technical schools, vocational schools, colleges or universities),” according to a Georgia Public Broadcasting article.
Danni Weiner, a senior English major from Olney, Maryland, said an open carry policy on campus would not be beneficial for student safety.
“I don’t see the rationality of having a firearm on campus during classroom hours,” she said. “My main concern with campus is above all else personal safety. College campuses and the topic of ‘concealed firearms’ have created this rampant fear culture. If students as a whole feel violated or distracted by their peers having firearms then I don’t see why we would have them present on our campus.”
Republican lawmakers pushed to decriminalize guns on campus this year, and proposed legislation where carrying a gun on campus would be a civil violation punishable by a maximum $100 fine.
But the bill was abandoned, and possession of a firearm on campus will result in a criminal prosecution.
Lt. Eric Dellinger of UGA police denied to comment, saying it was the courts’ decision to define the punishment.
But the prohibition does not extend to all parts of campus.
“[A] person who possesses a weapons carry license may have a weapon when carrying or picking up a student and may have a weapon in a vehicle that is in transit or parked within a school safety zone,” said Olens in the GPB article.
Olens’ statement means a firearm may be in a school safety zone so long as the firearm belongs to a person with a concealed carry license and is in a parked car or in the owner’s possession as they are picking up a student.
Robert Eager, southeast regional director of Students for Concealed Carry, said this legislation brought “nothing new” to the state’s campus carry policy.
“But it helped clear some of the other legal challenges so that we will be able to move forward,” he said.
As for bars and churches, owners may choose to allow guns in their establishments. But Eager said churches and bars should not be singled out from other private establishments.
“You should be allowed to carry a firearm responsibly just as you do when you go out to dinner or go to any other private establishment,” he said.
Weiner said guns in bars would be an “even worse idea” than allowing them on campuses, considering the presence of alcohol.
But Eager said the difference between establishments such as restaurants and bars is a difficult distinction to make.
“The original code defined a bar that made more than 50 percent of its sales in alcohol,” he said. “But most popular restaurants make more than 50 percent of their revenue from the sale of alcohol. Georgia redefined the bar as simply being a place that serves food only as an accent to alcohol service. So what is a bar and what is not?”
Weiner, however, said the state of the nation does not call for a blanketed open carry policy.
“I just came back from Israel, and when I was there I found it strange but comforting to be surrounded by armed military personnel all the time,” she said. “But the difference between the U.S. and Israel is the necessity surrounding these weapons. Israel is constantly at war, while the U.S. is stable enough that I feel as though open firearms are unnecessary in our generation.”