New effort to allow guns on Georgia campuses nears key vote

The Georgia House is likely to vote next week on a bill that would legalize guns on Georgia’s college campuses after a committee brought the measure up and passed it without public notice.

The move was a wake-up call for critics of the legislation who didn’t anticipate the stealth attack. But recent robberies at nearby Georgia State University have given backers ammunition they hope will allow them to beat back opposition from the state’s public college system.

“This bill allows Georgians not to be victims on Georgia’s college campuses,” said state Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, the chief sponsor of House Bill 859 — a piece of legislation he considered dubbing the state’s Campus Safety Act. “It will allow those who choose to, to defend themselves.”

College campuses and the Capitol itself are two of the last places in Georgia that still ban guns.

At least one legislator opposed to campus carry has plans to propose a “Capitol carry” amendment to the bill, intending to highlight the irony of working in the one place in Georgia that no lawmakers seem to want guns. Students, too, are sounding off.

The bill would allow anyone 21 or older with a weapons license to carry a gun anywhere on a public college or university campus, except for inside dormitories, fraternities and sorority houses, and at athletic events. It also would mandate that those weapons be concealed — something proponents say make it safer — since Georgia requires gun owners to apply for “concealed carry” permits that require fingerprinting and background checks.

“These are responsible people we all serve,” Jasperse said Thursday. “These Georgians are 21 years old. They’ve been fingerprinted. They’ve had their backgrounds checked.”

Some students say it doesn’t go far enough.

David Sharpe, a Georgia Tech graduate and member of Georgia Tech Students for Concealed Carry, said the fact that the bill doesn’t allow for guns in dorms makes it problematic for students who live on campus but need somewhere to store their weapon.

Still, Sharpe called the bill a “huge step” that “checks off most of the boxes of what we would hope would be passed to allow students to protect themselves on campus as they are allowed to do off campus.”

Georgia’s campus carry debate comes as Texas colleges are deciding how to handle guns on their campuses after state lawmakers there passed a campus carry law set to take effect in August.

Eight states allow campus carry, and nearly two dozen others allow individual schools to decide.

Recent events close to the Georgia Capitol, however, have added to the latest push. A few blocks from the Capitol building, robberies at Georgia State University’s downtown campus library — committed within weeks of each other, with two occurring on the same day — have increased support among some students and lawmakers for campus carry.

The state’s Board of Regents, which regulates the state’s 29 public colleges and universities, has long opposed campus carry, and it has successfully blocked previous attempts to allow guns on campuses. Like the University System of Georgia, officials at Georgia State have firmly opposed the idea.

“Campus carry is not a solution to a problem like this,” Georgia State President Mark Becker told students earlier this month during a public safety meeting. If campus carry leads to the discharge of firearms, history shows that not only do criminals get hit, but bystanders as well, he said.

Georgia State’s student government president, Sebastian Parra, has heard from students concerned about the robberies. But he thinks allowing concealed weapons on campus could be devastating. Parra wonders whether authorities would have trouble distinguishing between bad guys and students acting in self-defense if an incident occurred.

He also notes the prevalence of suicides among college-age people, noting that guns on campus could lead to more people taking their own lives.

“We know that we have lawmakers who believe that a good guy with a gun makes a bad guy with a gun obsolete,” Parra said, “but what they can’t deny is suicide.”

State Rep. Keisha Waites, D-Atlanta, one of three members voting against HB 859 in committee, called the bill “ridiculous legislation.” Waites said she plans to push the “Capitol carry” amendment as a protest as the bill heads to the House floor.

“I think that is only fair, given we’re going to allow kids to carry guns on campus,” Waites said. “I find it very ironic that the Legislature doesn’t want to allow the carrying of guns in the Capitol.”

Separately, state Rep. Buzz Brockway, R-Lawrenceville, has won committee approval for House Bill 792, which would allow stun guns and Tasers on college campuses, something he’s calling a compromise in the gun debate. “What this bill does,” he said, “is provide options.”

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