Concealed guns on campus are almost legal

You still won't be able to bring the big one to school. Photo by Sean Keenan | The Signal Archives

You still won't be able to bring the big one to school. Photo by Sean Keenan | The Signal
You still won’t be able to bring the big one to school.
Photo by Sean Keenan | The Signal
Carrying concealed guns on campus could soon be legal once Georgia House Bill 859 (HB 859) meet’s Gov. Nathan Deal’s pen.

HB 859, once ratified, would allow 21-year-old and older licensed individuals to carry concealed handguns on college campuses, except in student housing and athletic venues.

The state Senate approved the bill on March 11 after weeks of contention over whether more guns on campus yields protection or danger, according to the General Assembly.

On March 10, Georgia State’s Student Government Association (SGA) hosted a public forum with university police, student politicians and the general student body to discuss what could come of legal arms on school grounds.

Over 60 students in attendance showed up to voice concerns to Georgia State University Police Department (GSUPD) representatives Maj. Anthony Coleman and Lt. Sharon Ware on Mar 10 during SGA’s “Campus Carry” discussion.

Students voiced their dissatisfaction with campus escorts, call boxes, GSUPD security presence from officers other than Coleman or Ware, and asked for security updates as well as their concerns for the future of campus life should the bill pass this week.

Coleman fielded questions and concerns of campus safety, such as security oversight, campus escort services, and the repercussions of HB 859 and 792, which would allow the use of electronic weapons, like low-voltage tasers if passed in the Senate.

Coleman and Ware did not comment on the potential police reaction to the weapons carry legislation. Instead they sought student input for outlining safety measures.

“What would you [the students] like to do to increase the [working] relationship with the police? We are here twenty-four-seven. We would love to work with you,” Coleman said.

SGA President Pro Tem Sen. Justin Brightharp publicly extended invitations to future campus events to the GSUPD as an icebreaker between students and college law enforcement.

“Our main forum with the GSUPD is community-oriented policing,” Ware responded. “Seek us out so we can get to know you better. If you have problems with GSUPD, ask for a supervisor.”

SGA conducted a poll of Perimeter College and Georgia State undergraduate, graduate, and law students about HBs 859 and 792. More than 54 percent of each category of students surveyed opposed HB 859. Conversely, more than 48 percent of all students supported HB 792.

Coleman and Ware also said the 89 call boxes across campus are checked twice a week, but the campus escort service is used sparingly. Most students use it to seek shelter from the cold or rain, and many refuse bicycle or walking escorts, they said.

“Only in inclement weather is the Georgia State campus escort service used more often,” Ware said. “It shows us students don’t really care about crime; only about seeking shelter.”

Coleman also said three new officers have joined their ranks, two new escort vans have been purchased and from their vantage point, crime has decreased on campus since the increased security measures following the fourth armed robbery in January.

“We purchased and installed covert cameras after the last armed robbery that very night,” Coleman. “We will not have cameras on each floor, but cameras and the systems will have been upgraded in about two weeks, and we’ll be available to view footage at all times.”

Jeremy Borger, a Georgia State actuarial science major, said he felt like he was in more control of his safety after the debate.

“I like to come to these forums, and I feel better because I feel like I have more of a say in my own safety, and I feel more comfortable talking to the officers on campus.”

The University System of Georgia (USG) Vice President of Communications Charles Sutlive gave The Signal USG’s official statement, opposing the new legislation, saying USG agrees with current legislation.

“We feel strongly that current law strikes the right balance between creating a safe environment on our campuses while affording those individuals who are carry users a safeguard location.”

Coleman said he enjoyed the debate and hopes for more of them in the future, especially if the students feel better about approaching campus security officers, he said. He also said after the biometric scanners, more campus and library cameras will be installed at a later date.

Sean Keenan contributed to this article.