Savannah State University President Cheryl Dozier, left, comforts a student following a noon vigil for slain student Christopher Starks on Friday, Aug. 28, 2015 in Savannah, Ga. Starks, 22, died at a hospital of gunshot wounds sustained during an altercation at the student union on Thursday night. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News via AP)
Photo: Steve Bisson
Photo: Steve Bisson

Savannah State shooting revives focus on campus carry

The fatal shooting of a student at Savannah State University Thursday has trained fresh attention on whether guns should be allowed on college campuses in Georgia.

Attempts to permit firearms at Georgia’s universities have failed in recent years under opposition from several groups, including the powerful state Board of Regents, which governs the University System of Georgia, and the Technical College System.

“College campuses all have their own security - and they are people who are trained and know what to do with a gun,” said Dee-Jay Beard, a board member with Georgians for Gun Safety. “We don’t think students should have guns on campus. There are too many volatile possibilities that can happen.”

Proponents of “campus carry” measure say they are about upholding people’s constitutional rights.

“We believe you should have the right to protect yourself, no matter where you travel, and that includes college campuses,” said Jerry Henry, executive director of Georgia Carry, a gun rights support group.

Christopher Starks of Lithonia was fatally shot during an altercation at Savannah State’s Student Union building. No arrests had been made as of Friday afternoon.

This is at least the fourth campus shooting in Georgia since 2013. In February, authorities investigated an early-morning shooting that happened amid an altercation between two fraternities on the University of Georgia campus. No one was injured.

In February of 2013, authorities charged a Clark Atlanta University student with felony aggravated assault and carrying a concealed weapon after he allegedly shot a Morehouse College student. The shooting happened after a fight over a pickup basketball game on the Morehouse campus. And in September of 2013, 20-year-old Donald Bernard Lewis was killed in an early morning shooting at the University Village student housing complex at Savannah State. He was not a student there.

That same year, the state Board of Regents sent legislative leaders a letter, saying they were “deeply concerned” about pending legislation that would allow guns on college campuses.

“We firmly believe the current law promotes a safe learning environment for our students and working environment for our faculty and staff,” the letter said. “Our unanimous recommendation is to retain the law in its current form.”

State lawmakers are split on the issue. State Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, cited the fatal shootings of four Marines and a sailor in Chattanooga last month. The gunman, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, had researched Islamic martyrdom on the Internet in the days leading up to the attack.

“The war on terror is not just in the Middle East or Afghanistan – it is right here on our own streets,” said Powell, chairman of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. “People who wish to exercise their Second Amendment right to protect themselves – and they go through the normal background checks to be sure they are not criminals themselves – should have that right.”

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