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The campus carry law brings questions, challenges

The new state law allowing students over 21 to carry concealed weapons in most areas of Georgia’s public campuses contains challenges for Georgia’s universities. Colleges must resolve these issues by July 1 when the campus carry law goes into effect.

First, where do students store their Glock or Beretta in light of the law’s ban on firearms in fraternity and sorority houses and dorms?

The law makes no mention of storage, not does it appropriate any funding for gun lockers. The logical choice for students living on campus is to leave guns in their car or a friend’s car, which could spur more break-ins, undercutting the purported safety benefit of campus carry.

Even more perplexing: How do colleges fulfill the law’s provision prohibiting firearms in classes attended by dual enrolled high school students? The law outlaws guns in “any room or space being used for classes in which high school students are enrolled through a dual enrollment program, including, but not limited to classes related to the Move on When Ready Act.”

That exemption prevailed because the General Assembly has pushed Georgia high school students to enroll in college courses. Lawmakers understood parents would not want precocious 17-year-olds sitting next to an armed classmate in college physics class. (Somehow, however, lawmakers discounted those worries when voiced by parents of 18-year-old college freshmen.)

While the bill appears to speak only to spaces where high school students take class, parents are just as likely to fret over their younger teen sitting next to gun-toting college students in the library, coffee shop or cafeteria.

The campus carry law affects only public campuses, but the fallout extends to private ones as well. Clark Atlanta University responded to the new law with a quick statement, “Simply put, the use and possession of weapons is neither permissible nor tolerated at Clark Atlanta University.”

The president of LaGrange College says his private campus is often assumed to be a public school, so he plans several steps to make clear guns are not permitted. “We have so many visitors on campus who are unaware so this puts a fair burden on private campuses,” said President Dan McAlexander. Along with designing signs, LaGrange plans to reinforce its no-gun rule at freshmen orientation and with returning students.

“I just have a great deal of sympathy for my colleagues who are presidents in the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System as they have a huge challenge on their hands,” he said. “The LaGrange College Board of Trustees and administration has long believed and continues to believe, along with the vast majority of other college boards and administrations in the state and country, that its faculty, staff and students are safest and best able to pursue freely their highest educational goals in an environment that is free of the presence of lethal weapons.”

Proponents contend the campus carry requirement to be 21 eliminates much of immaturity fears, but the LaGrange president disagrees.

“I would invite anyone onto our campus or any campus at the close of any semester and witness the behavior or 21-year-olds. They are still late adolescents or early adulthood,” said President McAlexander. “It is not just distrust of student capacities. I wouldn’t want a faculty member carrying a gun. College is about creating the safety to deal with controversy, passion and heated arguments without the presence of something could change the entire tenor of that.”

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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.