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OPINION: Don’t revisit guns on campus

With a past veto on the books, and university officials and much of Georgia’s citizenry in opposition, lawmakers should finally shelve this issue.

This should have been a settled matter by now.

Last year’s surprisingly decisive veto statement by Gov. Nathan Deal should have resolved for a long time to come the issue of guns on public college campuses. That it did not suggests that a mule might well be a suitable animal mascot for the Georgia General Assembly.

Even in a non-election year, the Gold Dome is once more advancing a measure that would allow carrying of guns on most all of the campus acreage of Georgia colleges and universities.

In pushing the latest bill, which has already whizzed through the Georgia House on a 108-63 vote, campus carry advocates have, in effect, sought to shush opponents, chief among them being Gov. Deal as well as the University System of Georgia.

House Bill 280 also clashes with sentiments expressed by Georgia voters during a January poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That bipartisan poll of 840 people statewide found that 54 percent of those surveyed would oppose attempts to again pass a college gun bill. Similar numbers were seen among both college graduates and those without that credential.

We’ll acknowledge here, as we’ve done before, that the Second Amendment-guaranteed right to bear firearms is a pretty settled matter of law at this point. Ditto for the concept of concealed carry of guns as governed by state laws. We would suggest, though, that guns on campus is another matter altogether.

In an AJC news story last week, Gov. Deal, perhaps wearied by the persistent volley of nearly identical legislation, indicated that he’s now open to maybe supporting a modified campus carry bill. Deal said that he was meeting with HB 280’s proponents. “We’re receptive to continuing to talk with them, and hopefully they’re receptive to making some additional changes.”

Good luck with that, governor. Despite handwritten appeals last year to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, lawmakers in 2016 did not budge on Deal’s request that legislation bar firearms from on-campus preschools, administrative or faculty office space and at disciplinary hearings.

This year’s bill does make campus preschools off limits to civilian-carried guns. That nod to Deal’s request is not enough.

Thus, we continue to believe the governor got it right the first time, when he vetoed last year’s campus gun legislation. To his credit, Deal gave an eloquent, exacting and commonsense elaboration of his reasons for doing so. His logic is still quite sound, we believe.

We strongly urge Gov. Deal to maintain his courageous stance, and not yield to political expediency. As the AJC’s poll strongly suggests, much of Georgia holds views in line with his.

Included in those ranks is the university system itself. Although the state’s public colleges are beholden to the General Assembly for much of their funding, the University System of Georgia’s chancellor has been polite, but quite clear in opposing gun-rights expansion on campus. During a hearing last month of the Georgia House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, USG Chancellor Steve Wrigley said this: “With respect to campus carry, we feel strongly that current law strikes the right balance to create a safe environment on our campuses. This position is supported by our presidents and campus public safety departments who are closest to the day-to-day realities and operations of the state’s public colleges and universities. We therefore respectfully oppose any change to current law.”

Wrigley noted that the university system has acted on more than 20 campus safety recommendations since 2015. Active-shooter training for campus cops has been increased and mutual-aid agreements enacted with local police departments. USG has hired additional police and the force now stands at more than 800 certified officers systemwide. Mass communications and camera surveillance systems are in place on all campuses. Other efforts are in place to either analyze event patterns or otherwise prevent crime before it occurs. “We will continue to do all we can to keep our campuses safe,” Wrigley promised legislators.

This opinion from those in charge of overseeing Georgia’s public colleges deserves respect, and should carry the day, we believe.

Lawmakers should also reacquaint themselves with the often-quoted, and even more-often dismissed, opinion of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. It is cited in Deal’s 2016 veto remarks. In the landmark 2008 D.C. vs. Heller gun rights case, Scalia wrote in the majority opinion that, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” Scalia elaborated by saying that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on … laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such a schools and government buildings.”

As we wrote last year, we believe that, were he alive still, the bedrock-conservative Scalia would be astounded by how often his sound counsel is willfully overlooked today.

Those whose boots are on the ground each day at Georgia’s public colleges, as well as many ordinary Georgians believe that gun rights need no new expansion into places of higher learning.

The General Assembly should respect that point, shelve its latest effort and move on. If not, Gov. Deal should get his veto pen ready once more.

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Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.

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