In an AJC poll taken two years ago, Georgia voters were asked a question:
"Do you favor or oppose allowing students to carry guns on college campuses and in college dorms?"
The results were overwhelming. Just 20 percent of those polled supported allowing guns on campus; 78 percent opposed it. Seventy-one percent of Republicans opposed it; 71 percent of voters in North Georgia opposed it; more than 80 percent of those in South Georgia opposed it. Male, female, black, white, Republican, Democrat, urban or rural, old or young: Georgians overwhelming opposed it.
Yet this week, House Republicans introduced legislation that would legalize firearms on campus anyway. House Bill 859 has already been embraced by House Speaker David Ralston, who argues that “Getting a college degree should not mean abdicating your Second Amendment rights.”
Let's address that claim head on: Ralston is an attorney, and a smart one at that. So he knows -- or ought to know -- that he is spouting legal nonsense. If carrying weapons on a college campus was a right protected by the Constitution, no state legislation would be necessary -- the NRA and other groups would have taken Georgia to court and overturned the campus ban years ago.
That hasn't happened, and the reason is obvious. In a landmark 2008 decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed an individual right to own firearms. But Scalia -- one of the more conservative jurists in our nation's history -- took the time to make this explicit:
"... nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on ... laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."
Imagine if you're a professor meeting a student angry about a grade, and the student shows up with a sidearm. Under HB 859, the professor would have no ability to object. Imagine that after a heated classroom discussion, one of the angry students shows up armed at the next scheduled class. Again, neither the professor nor fellow students would have legal recourse to object.
No private business would expose its employees to such an environment. Very few allow workers to bring and carry private firearms on the job, and very few allow customers to do so either. The Georgia General Assembly certainly doesn't allow its constituents to show up armed at Capitol offices.
Jerry Henry, executive director of Georgia Carry, claims that the public would still be protected because HB 859 would apply only to those who have a Georgia carry permit, meaning "those who are 21 or over, been subject to background checks by the GBI, FBI, mental health check." But as a practical matter, Henry and others have already rendered that small safeguard almost meaningless.
Under legislation passed two years ago, law-enforcement officers -- including campus police -- who see an armed person are forbidden to check to see if he or she has a permit to do so. They are legally barred from asking. Law-enforcement officials objected strongly to that change, but legislators ignored them. So if the campus weapons ban is lifted, a 20-year-old convicted felon could march onto campus obviously armed and nobody would legally be able to question him.
Brilliant. And just to be clear, gun activists didn't accidentally render Georgia's gun permit law almost impossible to enforce. That was their intent, bringing the state a step closer to their ultimate goal of eliminating the permit system altogether.
Unlike other states¹, Georgia requires no gun-safety instruction and no demonstration of basic competence or judgment before the granting of a permit to carry a weapon. In that same AJC poll, Georgia voters were asked whether that should be changed.
Eighty-two percent supported requiring a gun-safety course as a condition of receiving a permit. Just 17 percent opposed it. Just 15 percent of Republicans opposed it. Three different bills creating such a system have been introduced in the current legislative session, and they are doomed.
Under HB 331, for example, the training would be free to the public. It would include instruction in basic firearm safety, information on proper storage "with an emphasis on storage practices that reduce the possibility of accidental injury to a child," and instruction on state law regarding legal use of such weapons.
Many if not most responsible gun owners would embrace such reasonable law. But its odds of passage in the Georgia General Assembly are about the same as a resolution making Barack Obama president for life.
¹In Idaho, for example, a campus-carry law passed in 2014 applies only to those with an "enhanced carry and concealed permit." Among other things, such a permit requires demonstrated competence in marksmanship under the supervision of a certified instructor and consultation with an attorney about the proper use of firearms in public.
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