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UGA and other Georgia colleges: Do we need armed students for safety?

Parents sending their kids off to college this fall may want to add a few things to the packing list besides raincoat, drying rack and extra long sheets. Based on the state Legislature’s apocalyptic view of Georgia’s campuses, students could also use a flak jacket, gun rack and extra ammo.

A bill barreled through the House Monday that will allow anyone 21 or older with a weapon license to carry a gun anywhere on a public college or university campus, except at sporting events or inside dormitories, fraternities and sorority houses. House Bill 859 now moves to the Senate, where we can only hope sanity prevails.

The House approved the measure 113-to-59 over the objections of the Board of Regents and most Georgians. A 2014 AJC poll found 78 percent of Georgians oppose guns on campuses, including 71 percent of Republicans.

In Texas, where the Legislature approved concealed handguns on its public campuses last year, private colleges were extended the option to also permit weapons on their campuses. None has done so.

In explaining the need to open Georgia’s public campuses to guns, State Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, said, “I wish these young men and women who walk among these schools didn’t have to do this, but in today’s world, it’s a must.”

State Rep. Mandi L. Ballinger, R-Canton, predicted regret for House members who opposed guns on campus, warning them that they will remember their fateful “no” vote one day “as you hug your husband, daughter and son and send them off to class” — and apparently to their doom.

In making a case for campus carry, state Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, conjured the strangest imagery of the day, at least to this mother of four and new grandmother. He described a young mother pushing her baby down North Avenue in Atlanta fretting she couldn’t show the little tyke her alma mater, Georgia Tech, because, along with a diaper bag, she was toting a handgun.

I don’t know what Georgia these lawmakers call home, but it is so beset with mayhem that college students cannot safely walk around the arches at UGA, gather under the Tech Tower or lounge on the front lawn at Valdosta State. Yet, when you examine crime statistics, most Georgia campuses report little violent crime.

Lawmakers cited sexual attacks as a reason to arm students, but rape and sexual assault occur most often in social settings where the victim knows the offender. Half of such assaults involve alcohol. Arming students with information about alcohol dangers, date rape and affirmed consent would be more beneficial than arming them with handguns.

Studies link accessibility to guns to increased risk of suicide. A handgun within easy reach of a student upset over a faltering romance or a failing grade can turn a momentary disappointment into an immutable tragedy.

Parents worried about their children’s safety at college will not be consoled by adding armed classmates to a volatile brew of drugs, alcohol and youthful irresponsibility. Ask parents how often their college students report lost, stolen or damaged smartphones and imagine what will happen with handguns, which students cannot store in their dorms under the proposed law and will have to keep elsewhere.

“No one needs a Ph.D. to understand that introducing guns among binge-drinking, drug-using, hormone-raging college students is not good policy,” said college professor and state Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, during last week’s House debate.

In addition, the “Die Hard” scenario lawmakers tout of armed students repelling bad guys is mythical thinking and dangerous. According to the FBI data, verified examples of guns being used in self-defense are dwarfed by how often they’re involved in crimes, accidental shootings and suicides.

I visited the University of Georgia Saturday with my 17-year-old twins. As I wandered around the lovely campus and the charming downtown yesterday, I thought, “Incredible.” (Kudos to our tour guide, a UGA senior English major in the honors program who graduated Walton High in Cobb.)

If you believe the view of our legislators, I should have been yelling, “Incoming.”

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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.