School-shooting report plays in legislative arguments

A report on school shootings in Georgia has become ammunition in the battle over gun legislation. Some state lawmakers and advocates for gun restrictions are using it to call for tougher laws to keep firearms from children and the mentally ill.

The report, by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-restriction group whose reporting methodology has drawn some critics, found there have been 12 school shootings in Georgia since a mentally ill 20-year-old man fatally wounded 20 children and six adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, 2012. Florida and Tennessee were tied for second on its list, with eight school shootings each.

“It was a startling reality of what’s going on” in Georgia, said Wendy Wittmayer, a Cherokee County parent who got involved with Moms Demand Action after Sandy Hook.

Georgia state Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, said fellow Democrats will submit legislation requiring background checks for anyone who tries to purchase a firearm at a gun show. Orrock, who said there will be a “full-throated effort” by Democrats in January to toughen gun laws, added there’s discussion of requiring parents to purchase lock boxes for their handguns. Wittmayer said her group and supporters will push for similar state and federal legislation.

Georgia passed legislation earlier this year, however, that eased some gun restrictions. Republicans control both chambers of the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion and have not shown interest in passing any tougher gun legislation.

Asked about the sturdy political headwinds she and gun-restriction advocates face, Orrock instead posed a question for Republicans.

“The GOP is faced with a decision,” said Orrock, who attended a gun safety meeting of state lawmakers in Washington, D.C. last week. “Are we going to continue to kowtow to the gun lobby in Georgia?”

Eight of the 12 Georgia shootings the report cites involved a shooter and victim who knew each other, an argument or fight beforehand or a drug deal. Only one was by an intruder: the August 2013 incident at DeKalb County’s Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy. Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper at the school, talked the gunman into surrendering before he harmed any students.

The report comes as officials with the state’s public colleges and universities meet today to review campus safety policies. Seven of the 12 Georgia shootings cited in the report took place on college campuses.

University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby organized a committee in August to review safety and security at each of the system’s 31 public colleges and universities.

A full report by the committee is expected in the spring.

For gun rights advocates, the Everytown report strengthens the argument for allowing guns on college campuses.

“You’ve got a criminal with a gun in a place where no one has a gun, so you’re advertising to a criminal that they will face little force,” said Jerry Henry, executive director of the advocacy group Georgia Carry.

Despite numerous attempts by groups like Georgia Carry, Georgia college leaders have been able to fend off legislation aimed at allowing students and visitors on their campuses to carry guns. A campus-carry provision of Georgia’s gun bill was stricken from the legislation in the final hours of the session after Gov. Nathan Deal publicly opposed the addition.

Henry also questioned the methodology of studies like the Everytown report.

For example, he said, some incidents involve a student illegally carrying a firearm on school property where the gun discharges and the student is the only person hurt but the reports list those as school shootings.

The independent fact-checking operation PolitiFact rated a prior Everytown report on school shootings as Mostly False, citing similar concerns. An Everytown spokeswoman said it has been transparent about what it classifies as a shooting and its overwhelming concern is a firearm was discharged on school grounds.

Three of the incidents occurred at Savannah State University, a historically black college with nearly 5,000 students.

In the past 12 to 15 months the college has increased the size of its police force and canine unit, added nighttime hall monitors in campus dorms, begun checking IDs of people walking or driving onto campus after 8 p.m. on weekends and installed additional high-resolution cameras to its campus security network.

Improvements like these are helpful, but officials say some of the responsibility also falls to students and young people visiting their campuses.

“Many of us in higher education feel that a lot is contingent on young folks wanting to resolve issues in ways other than gun violence,” said Edward Jolley, the college’s administrator who oversees public safety.

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