Protesters against campus carry last year at the University of Georgia arch. TAYLOR CARPENTER / TAYLOR.CARPENTER@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Opinion: Campus carry an option that can make students safer

Georgia’s new campus carry law will give law-abiding college students greater options for defending themselves. As an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse and violence through the nonprofit Racheal’s Rest, I support any and all efforts to expand people’s self-defense options. I have too often seen the damaging, lifelong consequences women suffer when they can’t protect themselves from assault.

College students face the same threats all Georgians face and they, too, should have the right to fight back. There are, of course, different self-defense tools women can use, but ultimately, guns are the great equalizer. Firearms give women the ability to defeat an attacker no matter the size difference.

College women, perhaps more than men, face sobering statistics about assaults. One-in-five women are sexually assaulted while in college. But these numbers don’t fully capture the magnitude of the problem, because 90 percent of all sexual assault victims do not report the attack. Every young college woman should be fully aware of the threats facing them and should take measures to protect themselves.

My husband and I teach self-defensive training classes and one of the first things we tell our students is that carrying a concealed firearm is not for everyone. We have worked with many students, who for a variety of reasons, simply don’t feel comfortable carrying a gun for self-defense. And that’s okay. We teach our students skills for de-selection, or ways to head off an assault without the use of deadly force.

We also work with them to understand the legal implications of using a firearm in self-defense. A person who chooses to carry a concealed weapon takes on a heavy responsibility. I believe anyone who does so should make every effort to get as much training and practice with their firearm as possible. I teach my students that no one should carry a firearm out of fear. They should do so with a sense of confidence, knowing that they are fully aware of what that firearm is capable of and how to store and use it safely and responsibly.

It’s important to note that Georgia’s new campus carry law is limited to individuals who have a Georgia Weapons Carry License, which means they are at least 21 years old. These are adults. If they are old enough to defend our freedoms in war, they are old enough to defend themselves from violent criminals. There is plenty of evidence that permit holders are more law-abiding than the general public. For example, in Florida, the state that has issued the most carry permits — nearly 2 million — the state has revoked only 168 (0.008 percent) due to gun crimes by permit-holders.

I first got a permit in 2011 after hearing one too many stories of people being attacked by violent criminals with no way to defend themselves. From the very start, I sought as much training as I could get. I shoot about 3,200 rounds per year! I don’t expect everyone who carries a gun for self-defense will shoot as much as I do, but they absolutely need to get training and practice so that if they ever need to fire their gun in self-defense, they’ll know what they are doing.

Law-abiding college students should have the same ability to protect and defend themselves that all Georgians have. I support the state’s new campus carry law and believe it will make our campuses safer for everyone.

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Shelley Hill and her husband run The Complete Combatant, a self-defense training course in Marietta.