There are good reasons that university officials, faculty and the students themselves oppose guns on campus. As a lecturer at Georgia Tech, I often teach with my back facing the door. I often sit down with students who are distressed about the grades they’ve been given. I spend days with students who are still learning about themselves, in an environment that is academically rigorous and emotionally stressful. Adding guns to that mix is not wise.
House Bill 280, known widely as “campus carry,” would allow guns onto our state’s public colleges and universities. Sadly, Georgia’s House recently passed the bill. Last year, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed another such bill because of its potential threat to young children in childcare centers on campuses. More people in the community are increasingly concerned about the potential for accidental discharges in and around classrooms where explosive materials and gas lines are prevalent.
As residents of this great state, we cannot lose sight of the facts. In 2015, Georgia gun-related deaths (ranked 18th in firearm deaths by state) outpaced fatal car crashes. For communities and families, that meant nearly 1,500 of their neighbors, classmates and family members were lost to gun violence. A campus carry law could mean even more gun-related suicides and homicides on school grounds.
This is a major concern given the facilities on Georgia Tech’s campus. Lawmakers made small changes to the current bill that might pass the governor’s moral muster, but essentially leave much of the campus, including most childcare centers, open to gun carriers. These “protections” don’t succeed in protecting all lives.
They also ignore the real social biases and lack of training that impact the choices one might make while carrying a weapon. Biases that make one person, because of race or class, seem more violent to another race or class. Biases that make “fight or flight” a varied and personal response based on one’s own experiences. Training lapses that leave most gun carriers inadequately prepared to de-escalate and save lives, rather than take them. When discussing gun laws, our communities cannot afford these omissions. We have to hold lawmakers and our governor to a higher standard.
We can start with a moral standard. After vetoing the bill in 2016, Gov. Deal said, “From the early days of our nation and state, colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed.” It is our lawmakers’ moral duty to ensure that campuses stay sanctuaries of learning. It is our lawmakers’ moral duty to enact laws that establish effective mental health programs and policies in schools. It is our lawmakers’ moral duty to enact laws that create safer campuses, which have fewer guns and more active-shooter trainings. It is our lawmakers’ moral duty to provide avenues for campuses to create and employ new and effective conflict-resolution strategies that save lives.
Our institutions of higher education are sacred ground for students, faculty and staff in academia. We will continue fighting to keep campuses safe spaces for thinking, learning and teaching.
Rev. Damon P. Williams is Senior Pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church of Atlanta, and a professor of industrial engineering at Georgia Tech.