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Opinion: Guns on Georgia college campuses endanger students

I have been in the northeast for a week and returned today to find Georgia back where it was a year ago with a proposal to open its public college campus to guns.

The General Assembly has revived its campus carry bill, a bill the overwhelming majority of Georgians who attend colleges, teach at them or send their children to them oppose. (Count me in as I may have my twins at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech next year.)

The outcry last year was so great that Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed House Bill 859.

And, yet, here we go again.

This year's bill, House Bill 280, is essentially a repeat of the 2016 model: It would allow anyone 21 or older with a weapons license to carry a gun most anywhere on a public college or university campus. Dormitories, fraternities and sorority houses would be off-limits, as would athletic events. However, the new legislation also exempts preschools on college campuses. Irate parents bombarded Deal and lawmakers with calls and letters in 2016 because the campus carry bill failed to carve out an exception for child-care facilities.

I have spent a lot of time visiting Georgia colleges in the last few months with my high school seniors. I was not in fear of my life at Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia or Georgia College, as lawmakers apparently must be based on their insistence students ought to be armed.

Here is a piece from a professor on the General Assembly's fixation with guns on college campuses. 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 Tech student.

By Carlos Moreno

Once again the Georgia Legislature is considering a campus carry’ bill, House Bill 280, 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 United State. 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 percent of Georgians support campus carry, and 71 percent 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.

The AJC 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, 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. 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, Gov. 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

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