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Guns on Georgia college campuses debated in Georgia

Carlos Moreno is an associate professor at Emory University's School of Medicine.

He works with college students daily and is also the father of a Georgia college student. He wrote this letter because of his concern about the revived "campus carry" bill in the Georgia General Assembly. The Legislature passed this bill last year, which would allow students to keep and carry guns on state college campuses. Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it. Gun proponents brought the bill back this year, as they have in many recent sessions, for another run.

Once again the Georgia Legislature is considering a ‘campus carry’ bill, HB280, which will needlessly endanger students, faculty, and staff on the campuses of Georgia’s universities and colleges.

I am a professor at Emory University, and I have seen many students in need of mental health counseling.  I have personally known students about whom I was seriously concerned as to whether they might do harm to themselves or to others. The last thing we need to do is make it easier for these students to carry lethal weapons on campus.  While Emory may not be directly affected by the proposed legislation, my son is an undergraduate at Georgia Tech, and he would be directly affected.  It is plainly evident that mental health concerns are all too common for today’s college students.  The mixture of stress, hormones, alcohol, and firearms that this bill would enable is a recipe for tragedy.

Several of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. have taken place in the past few years on college campuses and been perpetrated by students.  At Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, in 2007, 32 were killed and 17 were injured, second only to the Orlando massacre in mass shooting fatalities.  At UC Santa Barbara in 2014, a student killed six and wounded seven.

Moreover, Georgia voters are overwhelmingly against this bill.  A 2014 AJC poll found that only 20% of Georgians support campus carry, and 71% of Republican voters oppose this legislation. Additionally, this bill is an unfunded mandate, because it excludes firearms from sporting events, dorms, and fraternities, but does not provide any funding for universities to provide safe storage of firearms.

Proponents claim that this bill would help protect law-abiding citizens on college campuses.  This is a complete fallacy. If students have nowhere to store guns, they will keep them in their vehicles, and this will be the quickest way for stolen guns to end up in the hands of criminals.  Both the AJC and WABE (public radio) have recently reported an alarming rise in the number of guns stolen from vehicles, with the number running over 800 a few months ago.  Thus, this law will not make Georgians safer.  It will make them less safe.

In his veto statement last year, Governor 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. To depart from such time honored protections should require overwhelming justification…If the intent of [campus carry] is to increase safety of students on college campuses, it is highly questionable that such would be the result.”

It is time for the Georgia Legislature to stand up to the narrow special interests of the extreme gun lobby and reject this campus carry bill. And if it does not do so, Governor Deal must again veto this misguided legislation for the sake of the public safety of our college campuses.

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About the Author

Christopher Quinn heads the AJC Education team.