Moderated by Tom Sabulis
The Georgia House of Representatives has passed legislation that, technically, leaves the current ban on weapons on college campuses intact but makes it tough to enforce. HB 875 also legally introduces firearms into churches, mosques and temples. School districts could also empower civilian personnel to use firearms in k-12 schools. Today, a Fulton County leader opposes the bill and a college student supports it.
Commenting is open.
By John Eaves
Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech: These are names we now associate with a horrifiying image — students fleeing schools as their peers are gunned down by disgruntled loners or, more frighteningly, by their own classmates.
Price Middle School and Ronald E. McNair Academy are institutions much closer to home where we recently experienced near misses: A Jan. 2013 shooting at Price wounded a 14-year-old boy; and last August, a gunman barricaded himself in McNair offices and fired at police. Miraculously, no one was hurt in that ordeal.
House Bill 875 increases the possibility that Georgia students may once again be subjected to such dangers. The bill, if it becomes law, increases the chances of violence by expanding the list of public places where a concealed firearm can be carried.
The right to bear arms, as stated in the U.S. Constitution, is part of our Bill of Rights. The majority of gun owners in Georgia are law-abiding citizens who own firearms for sport or protection. My opposition to HB 875 is not about that right, but about the accompanying responsibility, in particular our responsibility as lawmakers to keep allcitizens safe.
The bill, would allow concealed weapons to be carried in bars, houses of worship and even areas of the airport preceding TSA-secured screening stations. HB 875 also would expand the list of people allowed to carry a firearm on a school campus and makes carrying a firearm on elementary school property a misdemeanor.
Also troubling is a provision permitting possession of a gun at government buildings with unrestricted entrances without security screening. It will increase costs for local government to hire more security using your taxpayer dollars.
All of these measures could result in the proliferation of concealed firearms in public spaces, something more akin to the wild west than Atlanta 2014. It is a huge step backward.
As a commission chairman in the state’s largest county and one with a top-notch, accredited police force, I want to give our men and women in blue the tools they need to keep our streets safe. Often, those tools come in the form of the laws that help them do their jobs. One provision of this bill prevents police from confirming that a person carrying a weapon is properly licensed. This dismisses the officer’s experience and instinct to identify a possible threat and potentially puts that officer at risk. I can no more put the general public in danger than I can the people who are sworn to protect them. House Bill 875 endangers both.
While the House has spoken, so has Fulton County’s delegation. By a vote of 14-11, our county’s lawmakers voted against HB 875. Clearly the majority of Fulton County’s House members see this bill much as I do, an initiative that will do more to endanger the public than to ensure its safety. The lawlessness and disregard that some offenders have shown for their neighbors and classmates should not be further reinforced by state lawmakers whose job it is to make lives safer. Please implore your Georgia Senate members to cast a vote for your safety and against House Bill 875.
John Eaves is chairman of the Fulton County Commission.
By David Sharpe
House Bill 875 includes many reforms to concealed carry laws. The provision which has garnered the most attention is the one which would decriminalize carrying a concealed firearm on public college campuses for Georgia Weapons Carry license holders. Currently, a GWL holder can be convicted of a misdemeanor on the first offense and a felony on the second offense for carrying on campus. If 875 passes the Senate, the only penalty will be a $100 fine.
This bill is a step in the right direction. Every person has a fundamental right to defend himself, and that right should not be revoked when stepping onto a college campus. The bill would only decriminalize concealed carry for those who can already legally carry elsewhere.
Statistics show that people who have gone through the process of obtaining a license, including being background checked and fingerprinted, are overwhelmingly law-abiding citizens. GWL holders commit about thirteen times fewer crimes than the general population. Resisting an attacker with a firearm cuts your likelihood of being injured in half compared to compliance or nonviolent resistance, and it reduces a woman’s chance of being raped by over 90%.
It’s clear that firearms are the best self-defense tools available today, and there is a need for them on campuses. For example, Atlanta contains several high-crime areas, including the third highest crime neighborhood in the US. It also contains several college campuses, including Georgia Tech and Georgia State.
As it stands now, even students who spend most of their time off-campus can’t exercise their right to self-defense for fear of accidentally crossing over an invisible line onto campus and going to jail. Criminals know that students are defenseless, high-value targets. Nearly every student on campus has a smartphone, a laptop and other valuable belongings. Police cannot be everywhere at once, and they usually arrive after the victim has already been attacked or killed.
It’s natural to be concerned about the stresses that students are under and other factors unique to college campuses. However, the facts repeatedly show that this simply isn’t a concern which plays out in real life. Campus carry has been legal for several years in the Utah public university system and at Colorado State, and there hasn’t been a single instance of a student being irresponsible with his firearm. When Georgia made it legal for GWL holders to keep their guns in their cars on campus in 2009, none of the predicted violence or shootings actually occurred.
It’s important to note that this bill would not make it possible for students to carry on campuses with impunity. All this bill would do is decrease the harsh penalties which are currently applied to people who may have forgotten that they were carrying or who crossed through an edge of campus without realizing it.
GWL holders are law-abiding, responsible people who just want to have a last resort if a criminal is about to kill or grievously harm them. These are not the people we should be charging with misdemeanors or felonies.
David Sharpe is president of Students for Concealed Carry at Georgia Tech.