If you are a mom or dad with a firm Republican voting history and the thought of concealed weaponry on the same university campus with your offspring gives you the heebie-jeebies, then you have perhaps eight months to make your case.
If by Thanksgiving you can’t convince the occupants of the state Capitol that you are a force to be reckoned with, resign yourself to the fact that 21-year-old sweetums might soon be hitting you up for a fashionable Glock and matching holster to go with that tuition and three-a-day meal plan.
Because the state Board of Regents’ clout on Second Amendment issues is draining away faster than a 30-round drum at a shooting range — and may be gone altogether by January.
While Washington debates background checks and magazine capacities, our conservative Legislature last month attempted to tack into the wind with an omnibus gun bill that would have allowed designated faculty and administrators to carry concealed weapons in all public schools and would have permitted congregations to “opt in” to weaponry at worship services.
But it was the issue of campus carry that caused Senate Bill 101 to stall in the last hour of the 2013 session. The people at the top of the state university system fought the provision tooth and nail.
Bills in the Capitol — especially gun bills — are drawn and passed with an eye toward hard-core GOP primary voters. “I am not sure there is anything I can say to you today to convince you that the provisions in this bill will be detrimental to campus safety,” a pessimistic Chancellor Hank Huckaby told a House committee last month.
And so the fight went underground. Parental picketing was minimal. No phalanxes of professors were given the green light to publicly worry over armed students in class. In the past, this tactic has benefited the Board of Regents, the most insiderish group in all of state government — something like a college of cardinals, appointed to limited terms by the governor.
Only now are some of the backroom arguments coming to light. For instance, the one on campus safety: Over a five-year period, from 2007 to 2011, 246 assaults and robberies occurred on state university campuses, according to one March 14 memo sent to the Senate by Daryl Griswold, assistant vice chancellor for legal affairs.
Which, according to university stats, wasn’t that bad. In 2011, you were 26 times more likely to be robbed if you lived in off-campus Georgia. And 44 times more likely to be a victim of assault.
Economic development was another nonpublic argument. The state’s two most prestigious public institutions — Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia — would be irreparably harmed by a media that would characterize each as an O.K. Corral with research grants, opponents of campus carry said.
The Senate, far more receptive to the Board of Regents’ concerns than the House, had nearly brokered a compromise that would have allowed the president of each state university to set its own gun policy when the regents made their most public move of the session.
All 18 members of the board — among them some of the most stalwart Republicans in the state — signed a letter declaring their opposition to any change in state law regarding guns on campus. (Currently, students are allowed to keep weapons in parked cars.)
The deal fell apart and House Rules Committee Chairman John Meadows, R-Calhoun, denounced the regents as an unelected “fourth branch of government.”
The problem with running this inside game is that, ultimately, it carried no hint of a threat. GOP lawmakers understand the grief that firearm rights advocates can cause them at the polls. But they saw no proof that they would be punished by parents offended by the thought of ending gun violence by adding more guns.
In the end, House and Senate negotiators came up with a compromise that overrode the Board of Regents’ objections: Licensed students between the ages of 21 and 25 would be permitted to carry concealed weapons in specific areas of campus — though not in dorms, fraternity and sorority houses, or sporting arenas — if they completed an eight-hour gun safety program.
The deal was signed with little more than an hour left in the session, too late for SB 101 to pass.
But the measure is far, far from dead. It is in a kind of suspended animation, and if Second Amendment enthusiasts press the issue — as they are sure to do — the bill can be voted on only a few hours after lawmakers return to Atlanta in January.
With the arrival of 2014, an election year, the Board of Regents will likely be politically neutralized. William “Dink” NeSmith’s term as chairman will expire Dec. 31. Vice Chairman Philip Wilheit Sr. is likely to replace him.
Wilheit will also be heading up Gov. Nathan Deal’s re-election bid. That alone will put the kibosh on any more letters of protest over campus carry.
Deal realizes the threat that SB 101 poses. You might call it a handgun of Damocles that hangs over his head by a thread, rather than the famous sword. The governor intends to summon all parties to a “working group” that will hammer out a solution to campus carry by the end of the year.
“He’s going to sit down in small meetings and try to bring opposing viewpoints together,” Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said. And if the governor can’t, the Legislature already has a gun bill cocked, locked and loaded for next year.