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Lawmakers depict campuses as dangerous and in need of guns. Crime reports show otherwise.


I continue to be amazed by the exaggeration of crime on our public colleges and universities by state lawmakers trying once again to overrule common sense  and University System policy by forcing guns on Georgia's campuses.

Listening to the wild commentary by campus carry  advocates about crime threats and predatory professors, you'd think lawmakers never visited an actual college campus but formed their views after binge-watching  "Scream 2" and "Sorority Row."

I just spent several days in Athens and saw two obvious areas where legislators could improve campus safety if they were serious about it and not just seeking to win points with the gun lobby: Figure out a way to slow down the cars and pickup trucks careening around Broad Street and stop the underage drinking.

Matthew Boedy, an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at the University of North Georgia, addresses the new scheme by the Georgia House to resurrect the campus carry bill.  Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed  a "campus carry" gun bill in May, saying it would not improve campus safety.

Neither will this new version, House Bill 280.

Boedy looks at the outcome of the "campus carry lite" bill enacted last year legalizing stun guns and Tasers on campuses. Surely, if crime was as rampant as gun proponents contend, those new defensive weapons would have been put into action. Boedy requested official records to find out.

Here is what he found:

By Matthew Boedy

This week University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley made his case to a House committee concerning this year’s version of “campus carry,” House Bill 280. In being against the bill, he highlighted the safety measures Georgia’s public higher education institutions have implemented since 2015.

The list was impressive and should be important to those GOP House members who overwhelmingly passed this bill in previous years. It most likely won’t be.

But there is a safety measure GOP legislators do find important: what many call “campus carry lite.” Put into law July 1 after overwhelming support from the GOP-led House and Senate, this law allows stun guns and Tasers to be carried anywhere on the campuses of Georgia’s public colleges and universities by those 18 or older. The law allows students under 18 to carry these weapons if they are enrolled in classes. It was called “lite” because it was seen as a compromise between those who fervently fought the introduction of guns to campuses like myself and those who wanted them. [If the 2017 campus carry bill shows anything, it seems the compromise was not good enough for the latter.]

In July a few media outlets did stories about the upsurge or predicted upsurge in sales of stun gunsfathers buying for daughters, particularly for the more urban campuses. Campuses are just not safe, they said.

One would think with the campus “crime wave” that drove the debate and all the weapons bought, there would now be many instances of people using them.

Through the state’s open records law, I asked for reports since July 1 (I asked for reports up to Feb. 17) of any use of electroshock weapons on my campus, the University of North Georgia (with its five campuses in Gainesville, Dahlonega, Cumming, Oconee and Blue Ridge), and University of Georgia, Kennesaw State, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State.

Campus police reported zero instances of defensive use. Not a single one.

Thank God for that and hopefully that pattern will continue. And yes, perhaps some people have used these weapons, scaring away would-be assailants and didn’t report the incident.

On the other hand, a few UGA students reported something more concerning. On Sept. 17, a group of four female students reported to campus police that a man in a red shirt chased them with a Taser near a dorm, using it “in an aggressive manner in an attempt to assault students,” according to the report. Police searched the area but did not find the suspect. This incident undermines the repeated pro-campus carry argument that concealed weapon owners are always law-abiding.

The lack of self-defense reports should make “campus carry” supporters pause before trying to make us afraid, again.

Despite the fact that college campuses are some of the safest places in our state, the need for electroshock weapons was based in the same mistaken rhetoric as the need for guns: to stop the rise in campus or near-campus crime. And this rhetoric is getting more extreme, more based in fear. This year’s main sponsor of the “campus carry” bill, Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, claimed that guns were needed on campus because of “at times some college professors made unwanted advances toward female students.” [That insulting comment almost deserves no response. But here is one: why not stun guns?]

This same fear argues shooters are attracted by “gun free zones.” This just isn’t accurate. According to the gun violence research group The Trace, research shows “no evidence that mass killers select locations based on gun policy.”

And the fear-based theory that we need more “good guys” with guns to stop the high quantity of “bad ones?” A FBI study of active-shooter incidents from 2000 to 2013 found that in 160 incidents, just one ended with an armed citizen exchanging gunfire with an attacker. Twenty-one incidents were stopped by unarmed citizens. And a new report found that sexual assaults on campuses where concealed handguns are permitted rose after the implementation of the law.

Despite pleas from moms who lost children to guns, students who oppose “campus carry” to the point of 70 percent at Georgia Tech, faculty who came out in droves last year to defeat the measure, and the USG chancellor backed by every campus police chief – despite all this, it is almost certain the House will pass this bill. Again.

Senators, don’t let fear propel guns onto campuses. And if the bill gets to you, Gov. Deal, don’t back off your veto from last year. Don’t be tempted by the new exemption for child care centers. This year’s version is based in the same misguided logic. Stick to the philosophy you laid out – for centuries colleges have been sanctuaries of learning.

I teach at one. Here we don’t prey on students. We teach them, guide them, dare I say, educate them. To divide fear from fact. And we are protected by some great police. The rest of Georgia, you too are against this measure. A majority didn’t even think it was worth debating again, after the battle in 2016, according to a poll in this newspaper. Yet here we are again. Let’s not give into fear this time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.