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Georgia Tech professor: Why are guns unsafe for dorms, but allowed in classrooms?

The Senate passed the campus carry bill today. House Bill 859 now goes to the Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

The legislation allows anyone 21 or older with a weapons license to carry a gun anywhere on a public college or university campus, except for inside dormitories, fraternities and sorority houses, and at athletic events. The bill requires weapons be concealed.

According to the AJC:

The Georgia Senate on Friday gave final passage to a bill that for the first time would legalize firearms on all public colleges in Georgia, following an emotional two-hour floor debate over the wisdom of letting students carry concealed guns on campus.

If it becomes law, the bill would make Georgia the ninth state to allow campus carry, with nearly two dozen others allowing individual schools to decide. Supporters of the legislation have also linked their effort to the safety of students, noting events such as recent robberies at Georgia State University’s downtown Atlanta campus library that is only steps from the state Capitol.

I received this letter from a Georgia Tech professor opposing the bill. The protests of professors and students did not sway the Senate or the House, and I don't think Deal will be moved, either.

But I believe the governor will hear from professors about their concerns, as well as from parents. And I think their comments will echo these:

Dear Sponsors of House Bill 859,

I am not one of your constituents, however I am a Professor of Computer Science at Georgia Tech where I have taught and conducted research for more than 20 years. I am writing to share with you my grave concern about House Bill 859 to allow concealed carry of guns on public campuses. I ask that you do not pass this bill.

I firmly believe the addition of more guns to the campus environment will have serious detrimental effects on our students and on the university as a whole. I believe this dispassionately, based on the data demonstrating the correlation between gun prevalence and violence. I also believe this passionately, based on my 20 years of personal experience in the classroom and as a woman on the urban Georgia Tech campus.

My guess is that those who support this bill either dispute the data or do not think such data is relevant, thus I will focus my letter on my personal experiences.

Here is what it means to be a university professor: I stand on a stage in front of a room of students, as many as 75-100. I lecture and lead discussions. With some regularity I assign grades that may well affect the future of the bright students in the room. Sometimes I turn my back, to write on the board. Sometimes my attention is focused on one part of the room and not another. In many classrooms there are doors behind the stage where people arrive late or leave early.

The professor is vulnerable, by virtue of location in the room, the activities of teaching and the role assigning grades. More guns do not make for a better classroom learning environment. More guns mean more potential for violence. How could that be good for learning, the core mission of the university?

The framers of the bill admit that there are places on campus where the right to carry should not be allowed, such as dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses, and spaces used for athletic sporting events. Why these exceptions and not classrooms?

Many of my computer science colleagues at Georgia Tech and elsewhere are leaving their universities for much more lucrative industry jobs. I am a professor because I love teaching and working with students. I have dedicated my entire career to making Georgia Tech a better place. Please listen to the students, faculty and university leaders who believe that more guns on campuses is bad for Georgia.

Sincerely. Ellen W. Zegura,

Professor of Computer Science, Georgia Tech


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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.