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Georgia freshman orientation: We have veggie options, late-night shuttles and guns

Among the information parents are learning at freshman orientation sessions underway at Georgia public colleges, their 18-year-olds could be sitting next to armed classmates in classrooms, dining halls and tailgating parties.

Georgia's infamous campus carry law goes into effect in eight days, permitting for the first time conceal carry on public colleges. The law cites a few places where guns will still be outlawed, including sporting events. However, guns will be permitted at tailgating events outside stadiums and sports venues.

That was made clear in the guidelines released by the University System of Georgia after the Legislature approved campus carry this spring and Gov. Nathan Deal signed it. (Deal signed the controversial bill despite the fact his office received 14,873 calls, emails and letters opposed to it and only 145 in favor.)

Here is part of the memo:

While current law already allows license-holders to keep weapons secured in motor vehicles, beginning on July 1, House Bill 280 will allow anyone who is properly licensed in the State of Georgia to carry a handgun in a concealed manner on property owned or leased by public colleges and universities, with some exceptions as explained below. It will not allow any other type of gun to be carried around campus; nor will it allow handguns to be carried openly. (House Bill 280 does not apply, however, to institution-sponsored events or excursions away from campus on property not owned or leased by a University System institution.)

The statute defines concealed as “carried in such a fashion that does not actively solicit the attention of others and is not prominently, openly, and intentionally displayed except for purposes of defense of self or others.” A license-holder therefore may carry a handgun while it is substantially (“but not necessarily completely”) covered by an article of clothing he or she is wearing, or contained within a bag (“of a nondescript nature”) he or she is carrying, or in another similar manner that generally keeps it out of the view of others.

There are a number of exceptions to the new law that limit the places on campus where handguns may be carried. Even license-holders may not carry a handgun into the following locations on college/university-owned or leased property:

  • Buildings and property used for athletic sporting events. This exception includes stadiums, gymnasiums and similar facilities in which intercollegiate games are staged (but does not extend to so-called “tailgating” areas where fans may congregate outside the gates of the sports facility). It does not extend to student recreation centers and similar facilities that are not used for intercollegiate games.
  • Student housing facilities including residence halls and similar buildings where students live such as fraternity and sorority houses. (Note that any housing that is not on property owned or leased by a University System institution is not covered by House Bill 280.)
  • Spaces – including any room, continuous collection of rooms or outdoor facility – that are used for preschool or childcare. In order to qualify, preschool and childcare spaces must have controlled access (meaning access via personnel stationed at the door or an electronic mechanism) limited to authorized people.
  • Rooms and other spaces during the times when they are being used for classes in which high school students are enrolled, whether through dual enrollment and programs such as Move On When Ready or through college and career academies or other specialized programs such as Early College. License-holders who want to carry handguns to class will need to visit the institution’s registrar or other designated employee, who after verifying their enrollment status will tell them which of their classes, if any, have high school students enrolled. Institutions shall not, however, keep any listing of those who inquire. (Note also that the names of enrolled high school students may not be revealed in accordance with applicable privacy laws.) It is the responsibility of license-holders to seek out this information and make themselves aware of which classrooms fall within this exception.
  • Faculty, staff and administrative offices. This exception includes offices and office suites occupied by faculty, staff and administrators but does not include more general public common spaces outside of those areas.
  • Rooms during the times when they are being used for disciplinary proceedings of any kind, including those regarding students, faculty or staff. These would include any meetings or hearings that are part of the University System’s or the institution’s sexual misconduct, student conduct, dispute resolution, grievance, appeals or similar processes.

Under the new law, it is a misdemeanor crime for a license-holder to carry a handgun “in a manner or in a building, property, room, or space in violation of” these provisions. Doing so also may be a violation of the institution’s student code of conduct and personnel rules. It will be the responsibility of those license-holders who choose to carry handguns on campus to know the law and to understand where they can go while carrying. Institutions will not provide gun storage facilities or erect signs outside restricted areas.

Each institution will need to review its campus conduct and weapons policies to ensure that they comply with these changes to the law. While House Bill 280 provides for specific exceptions where handguns may not go, it does not give individual institutions discretion to bar or further limit handguns on their campuses. Institutions therefore may not place additional restrictions or prohibitions on the carrying of handguns beyond those contained in the law. Neither should anyone else attempt to interfere with the ability of license-holders to carry concealed handguns on campus.

I must point out while legislators deferred to worried parents and prohibited guns in classrooms where high school students are dual enrolled, those teens can still be exposed to firearms in other places on campus -- dining halls, student centers, recital halls, coffee shops, campus quads, theaters and bookstores.

Jeff Ploussard of Gwinnett County is the parent of two students at public colleges in Georgia. In this short piece, he urges Georgias to press the state to ban guns from tailgating events. Ploussard gives lawmakers the benefit of the doubt and assumes they will want to close what he calls the tailgate party loophole.  Legislators were made aware the law didn't specify tailgating among the gun-free zones. It didn't faze them.

By Jeff Ploussard

The University System of Georgia issued guidelines a few weeks ago for implementing House Bill 280, the so-called “campus carry” bill  signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal.  Under the new gun law — for the first time ever — Georgia weapons license holders will be allowed to carry concealed handguns into classrooms and other places on Georgia’s public college and university campuses.

Notwithstanding the new law, several wise and sensible gun-free zones will remain on campuses and are specified in HB 280.  For example, handguns will continue to be prohibited in stadiums, arenas and other facilities used for athletic sporting events.  Unfortunately, according to the USG guidelines and in an apparent oversight by lawmakers, this prohibition doesn’t extend to the so-called ‘tailgating” areas outside these athletic facilities.

College tailgate parties typically revolve around the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Given the clear and well documented linkage between alcohol and gun violence, lawmakers will want to quickly amend the new law by keeping these “tailgating” areas gun-free in order to maximize public safety on Georgia college campuses on game days.

The new campus carry gun law is scheduled to take effect on July 1, and the first home football game tailgate parties for the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech are September 2nd and September 4th, respectively.  Now is the time to contact the powers that be to express your opinion and urge them to work together to close the “tailgate party” loophole as soon as possible.

Here is a list of the individuals and organizations that have the most financial leverage and political influence to expeditiously close the “tailgate party” loophole:

Nathan Deal (404-656-1776)

Board of Regents  (404-962-3049)

Your State Representative (Georgia House)

Your State Senator (Georgia Senate)

NCAA National Collegiate Athletic Association (317-917-6222)

SEC Southeastern Conference (205-458-3000)

ACC Atlantic Coast Conference (336-854-8787

Closing the dangerous “tailgate party” loophole now will signal to thousands of citizens that their voices have been heard by our legislators and other stakeholders in Georgia’s system of higher education.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.