A mom’s wish for safe campuses

Last Monday, the Georgia House passed the “campus carry law,” which would allow students 21 and older who have a concealed weapons license to carry guns on the state’s public university and college campuses. The next day, lawmakers passed “campus carry lite,” which would allow students of any age to carry a Taser or stun gun to defend themselves or others.

There has been much debate in the past week among Atlanta Journal-Constitution readers about both measures. Monday’s story by staff writer Kristina Torres had received almost 600 comments online by week’s end from people who are very passionate about the issue.

On one side, there are those who think that more guns is never the answer and that the law would create what one reader called a toxic mix of “young, stupid, drunk and armed.”

In Torres’ story, state Rep. Virgil Fludd, D-Tyrone, was a little more tactful: “We’re putting (students) in volatile situations with alcohol and hormones.”

Also on the anti-campus-carry side are those who worry that more guns on college campuses will spur an increase in “opportunity suicide” for a generation already burdened by peer and academic pressures, stress, depression, bullying, and attention deficit disorders. This side also wondered why lawmakers who are voting to allow guns on college campuses – possibly creating a Wild, Wild West environment – aren’t applying those same gun laws to Georgia’s state capitol grounds.

On the other side of the debate, readers say college students should be allowed to protect themselves on campus and exercise their right to bear arms.

State Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, who sponsored House Bill 859, said “It’s a real world solution to a real world problem” regarding campus safety.

Several readers tried to assure the detractors that the law simply allows people who already legally carry in public places (professors, administrators, staff) to carry while on campus, and that schools that allow them to do so are “far safer than ‘gun-free zone’ schools.”

In response to the Wild, Wild West concern, commenter Steve Havey had this to say:

“What is so magical about the boundary of a college campus that it will cause a [concealed weapon] license holder to suddenly turn irresponsible when they step onto the campus? You still have to be 21 and pass the background check. These are the same people that carry next to you and your family at the grocery store, the movie theatre and restaurants.

Then there are those (few that there are) who are somewhere in the middle.

“Another symbolic bill that won’t change anything,” reads an anonymous post by “Creative.” “Nobody will be any safer just as nobody will be in any more danger.”

Maybe there’s some truth to that. As a parent with a daughter more than ready to head off to college in the fall, oddly enough I take some comfort in those words that aim to tame both sides of this heated argument.

I was a student at the University of Georgia in the late ’80s, and can easily romanticize about life on campus during my four years in Athens. Someone robbing me at gunpoint as I left the main library after a late-night study session or even worse, an armed gunman bursting into one of my classrooms is not something that was ever a part of my consciousness.

But that was before news of rampant muggings on or near metro area college campuses. Before Columbine. Before Virginia Tech.

Before I lost a nephew and a young cousin in separate fatal shootings more than a decade apart. Both were killed by someone they loved and trusted. A first cousin. A neighborhood friend.

My nephew was 23, and had already left college behind. He died after spending a night of fun with close cousins – dancing and drinking. When alcohol is involved it can be difficult to ever know what really happened, even as your family tries to figure out how to live without a person who brought joy to so many.

My young cousin was in high school when one of his friends got a hold of the friend’s dad’s gun and for several days treated it as a toy until a 15-year-old lay bleeding to death on the floor at the friend’s house.

For that reason, I’ve never really had a desire to be a gun owner. Guns stir personal feelings of fear, regret and loss. Yet I respect and believe in a person’s right to bear arms and protect themselves and their families – mostly within the confines of their own homes and other property.

What exactly does that look like on a college campus? I worry less about an instructor who has a gun locked in a desk drawer than a fellow student on my daughter’s dorm floor having a weapon that might be accessed by an unstable roommate or friend.

Georgia isn’t the only state to consider a campus carry law. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eight states (Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin) recently passed legislation to allow concealed weapons on public university and college campuses. This fall, Texas will allow concealed handgun license holders to do just that. The Texas arguments for and against mirror the comments from AJC readers.

A few days ago, a University of Texas dean, citing the new law, announced that he was leaving UT for a job at the University of Pennsylvania. The national, non-partisan Students for Concealed Carry says educators are “overwhelmed by unjustified fear.” On their website, the group addresses more than two dozen arguments against campus carry.

It’s been helpful to me to listen to both sides of the argument – not just as journalist but as a parent. I don’t want to be “overwhelmed by unjustified fear.” But I’ve experienced the painful, unintentional consequences of young people and guns, even those with legally obtained permits.

More than anything, I want my kid (and all college kids) to experience a campus life that’s academically and culturally enriching, socially stimulating, fun and above all else, safe.

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