Georgia House will endanger students if it passes campus carry gun bill today

UPDATE: The House passed the campus carry bill 113 to 59 after an hour of spirited debate. (I have a lot of the debate on Twitter.)

Alexander Evans is a graduate student studying epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. He holds a master's in business administration and bachelor degrees in biology, public health and business administration from Kent State University.

Evans writes about the expected House vote today on House Bill 859, which would allow anyone 21 or older with a weapons license to carry a gun anywhere on a public college or university campus, except for inside dormitories, fraternities and sorority houses, and at athletic events. The legislation would also require the firearms be concealed.

The leader of the House predicts the legislation will pass. "When we have armed robberies taking place in campus libraries, right here near this Capitol on multiple occasions, I think there is a real concern out in the state,” House Speaker David Ralston told the AJC.

Sponsored by state Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, House Bill 859 is opposed by the Board of Regents.

By Alexander Evans

I was an undergraduate at Kent State University in 2014 when a student discharged a firearm during an on-campus argument with two other students. The university was placed under lock-down for nearly three agonizing hours as 10 law enforcement agencies swept academic buildings and students shared pictures of their barricaded classrooms on social media. The gunman was later apprehended off campus.

Reflecting on this experience as a current graduate student, I have thought a lot about campus safety.

Some Georgia lawmakers would argue that “campus carry” laws make universities safer in these situations.

Credit: Maureen Downey

Credit: Maureen Downey

The House is expected to vote today on a bill allowing licensed individuals to carry firearms on public colleges and universities.

Proponents of the “campus carry” bill argue the legislation will help students protect themselves from becoming victims; they claim potential victims of sexual assaults and other crimes will be empowered to stop such attacks

Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily the case. Oregon is one of the few states that allow concealed carry of firearms on college campuses. A group of students were carrying firearms on the Umpqua Community College campus in October when a gunman opened fire in a classroom. They ultimately chose not to intervene out of fear law enforcement might confuse them for the gunman — a practical limitation to armed students defending their university.

A 2015 study of National Crime Victimization Survey data failed to find evidence suggesting self-defense gun use reduced a victim’s likelihood of injury during a crime. Firearms are much more likely to be used to commit crimes than to stop them.

The notion that campus carry laws will decrease sexual assaults on our campuses reflects a deep misunderstanding of the nature of these attacks. The majority of these crimes are committed in the presence of alcohol and by close contacts of the victims. Experts in the field say firearms actually make the problem worse, not better.

Perhaps the sponsors of “campus carry” recognize the ubiquity of alcohol on college campuses and the risks involved with adding guns into the mix — the bill would restrict firearms from dorms, fraternity and sorority houses and sporting events.

Gun activists often claim “gun-free zones” make schools and universities targets for would-be criminals, yet the evidence fails to support the claim that these areas are intentionally targeted for their gun-free policies. By their logic, “campus carry” would just turn college sporting events and fraternity houses into easy criminal targets.

The flawed argument for expanding “campus carry” laws -- that “only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun” -- mistakenly assumes the average licensed carrier, in this case, college students, can conduct themselves with the tactical judgment and execution we expect from highly trained law enforcement officers.

While the sponsors claim their bill will make campuses safer, most higher education professionals and the general public are against this kind of legislation.

The truth is that “campus carry” would compromise the learning environment and change peer-learning and professor-student relationships.

Our colleges and universities are critical for our pursuit of better tomorrows. Campuses are sanctuaries for open creation and exchange of ideas. Colleges and universities, and those responsible for governing them, have a duty to maintain the integrity of this environment and the safety of those engaging in it.

Our academic resources should be concentrated on fostering this environment where students feel free to focus on their studies, to resolve conflict with logical solutions; the decision to pull a trigger should be left to those trained to keep our campuses safe.