Campus carry protest

University of Georgia students and professors as well as members of the Athens community marched from the Tate Student Center on campus to the Arch downtown to protest House Bill 859, which would legalize concealed weapons on campus.

Donald Trump may be the 21st-century equivalent of Mussolini, but the real threat to democracy is right here in Georgia.

It started with a vote. On Feb. 22, the state House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow college students to carry handguns to class with the same ease that one might bring a guide dog. Last Friday, that same bill passed the Senate. And Gov. Nathan Deal now faces the decision of whether or not to sign House Bill 859 — dubbed the “campus carry” bill — and grant anyone with a concealed carry permit to legally bring a firearm anywhere at public colleges, except residence halls, Greek houses and sporting venues.

That process sounds like democracy. It looks like democracy. But when almost 80 percent of Georgians oppose campus carry, it’s anything but.

According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, only 20 percent of people agree with permitting guns on college campuses. Among dissenters, virtually nobody who is actually involved in higher education wants firearms on campus. On Wednesday, University of Georgia students, professors and Athens community members held a march and protest against HB 859 at Tate Plaza and the Arch. According to an online poll conducted by The Red & Black, approximately 62 percent of UGA students disapprove of campus carry — but the opposition doesn’t stop at students. In a rare public statement released March 2, UGA President Jere Morehead voiced his opposition to the bill by supporting Hank Huckaby, the chancellor of the University System of Georgia, who testified in the Senate against HB 859.

The message to state lawmakers is clear: Almost no one wants guns on Georgia college campuses. When the chancellor of the USG himself speaks out against something, you sit down and listen. But that’s not what our representatives are doing — they’re doing whatever they want, with little thought as to what’s right and wrong.

Passing legislation that affects students, professors and administrators without their support is not only politically stupid — it’s morally reprehensible. Georgians elect officials to represent their interests and act on their behalf. By ignoring the opinions of the higher education community and passing campus carry, state representatives have foregone the tenets of democracy, opting instead for a government that legislates beyond the people. For a party that touts the merits of small government, it’s ironic that state Republicans would support a measure that is essentially a unilateral decree.

For some students, it’s painfully obvious why gun rights are so popular. Georgia is traditionally a deep red state, where Republicans are more common than Baptist churches or two-lane highways. But campus carry doesn’t only amass support from radical conservative ideologues from rural areas. Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) represents UGA students and Athens citizens alike, yet he voted in favor of HB 859 last Friday, thereby helping to pass the bill. Rep. Regina Quick (R-Athens) also voted in favor of the legislation in the House — despite the fact that 71 percent of North Georgia opposes it, according to the AJC poll.

True, these votes were cast along party lines, with Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens) opposing the measure. The issue of gun rights is one that largely defines American political parties. But the unwillingness of elected officials to listen to the will of most of their constituents is highly unethical and delegitimizes them as lawmakers. These people aren’t just figureheads — they’re representing Georgians. They're creating and voting on legislation that could govern the way we live our lives. And they’re failing us.

In the fall, newly admitted UGA students might have four years of fear to look forward to. When they arrive on campus, some might legally bring guns packed alongside laptops and notebooks. Columbine, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech might linger in students’ minds as they walk to class alongside armed peers. The Red & Black implores Gov. Deal to veto any bill that would make this a reality and — come Nov. 8 — asks that Georgians vote against the politicians that refuse to listen to their voices.

— Daniel Funke on behalf of the editorial board of The Red & Black

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that UGA President Jere Morehead released a statement against campus carry March 12. In fact, he released the statement March 2.