Guns on campus debated in the House

On January 20, 2014 • By

Former Georgia State students Dorian Stroud and Quinton Arnold can tell you a thing or two about gun violence on a college campus.

These 18 to 19-year-old stickup men charged with armed robbery are facing 10 to 20-year prison sentences for their alleged crime, caught by Georgia State surveillance cameras last semester at the University Commons.

Their kind of criminal activity is the impetus that is driving state legislators, second amendment gun rights advocates, powerful gun lobbyists like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and others to change gun laws in Georgia. Legislation is intended to allow 21-year-old permit-carrying university students to be armed with concealed weapons on campus for their own protection.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Georgia State Senator Vincent Fort, a former professor at the Atlanta University Center, said. “More guns on a college campus [besides those carried by law men] in the hands of potentially inexperienced gun owners is not the answer. Can’t you see the potential for disaster and unintended consequences? Of course we should not be arming students for the possibility of a shoot-out with bad guys in the middle of our highly-populated university campuses.”

However, the intent of many in the state legislature is to do just that.

“I am one of the co-sponsors of new gun legislation [on college campuses]. I think citizens should be able to exercise their Constitutional rights,” Republican State Rep. Mandi L. Ballinger said.

Today, House Bill 29 aims to expand and clarify state firearms carry laws that include allowing students who are at least 21 and have a permit to carry a concealed weapon to do so on campus. Other discussions at the state capital focus on limiting firearms display and possession at political rallies, bars and sporting events.

“We would adhere to any policy or law enacted,” Georgia State police chief and assistant vice president Connie Sampson said.

Chief Sampson continued by placing the gun issue in the perspective of Southern culture.

“There is a potential for a problem, but this is the South and the people in the South have always had guns. We [southerners] were born and bred on guns. I was born in a house where daddy would come home and place his pistol on the television, where the little kids were sitting there watching TV programs,” Sampson said.

In the southern crescent of Metro Atlanta, Clayton State University history professor Randall S. Gooden, who taught a course on the history of guns, militias and the Constitution, offered a different idea.

“The debate on weapons on campus is a Constitutional questionon representative democracy,” Gooden said.

He explained that the state legislature has the right and obligation to receive and consider the view of each citizen.

“If the majority shares a viewpoint that becomes preeminent to those who serve at the will and pleasure of the people then those viewpoints have to be considered in formulating law,” Gooden said.

State Rep. Matt Hatchett says he is doing just that.

“I’m still listening to my constituents. Some have issues, some don’t [concerning allowing guns on college campuses],” Hatchett said. “This affects students on campus who are over 21. I’ll vote on it when it comes to the floor. I voted for both bills last year [that failed to pass in the 2013 legislative session].” The Dublin Republican is in favor of students being able to carry weapons “in certain places on campus.”

Chief Sampson, a mother of three, said Georgia State will be ready.

“We train our people, in what we think is, for every possible encounter,” Sampson said. “Whether it is a legal gun, or an illegal one, any one of them will kill you.”

Prepared or not, the education establishment in the state is in lock-step with the position of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. It supports the current law that bans firearms possession at colleges, universities and technical schools and opposes any change.

In their statement last March, signed by more than two dozen college presidents in Georgia, the educators said they were “deeply concerned about proposed legislation that would permit firearms in classrooms, student centers and in our academic and administrative buildings.”

Georgia State President Mark Becker’s office offered no additional comment besides the unanimous support of the university system.

Banning guns at colleges and universities is not universal throughout the United States. Both Utah and Colorado allow students with concealed license permits to carry weapon on campus.

In a 2009 national random survey of police chiefs on college campuses, it was found that 86 percent disagree or strongly disagree that allowing students to carry concealed weapons on campus would prevent campus killings like the situation with the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that resulted in the deaths of 32 people.

Over the past five years, 35 percent of all U.S. college campuses have had at least one firearm incident, according to data provided by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

This speaks to the issue espoused by State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, an Atlanta Democrat, who says the passage of legislation allowing students to carry guns on campus is a 50/50 proposition that may follow the lead of Gov. Nathan Deal.

“It sends the wrong message. The vast majority of Georgians oppose the expansion of gun rights,” Brooks said. “If you have a gun, got a gun, you are probably going to use it at some point.”

Brooks continued to explain that students on campus with weapons would be tempted to use their guns against people with whom they had disagreements. Heated debates or arguments may lead to deathly violence if a student decided to use their weapon.

“Colleges and universities don’t need more guns. They need fewer guns. This will create more violence, killings and shootings,” Brooks said.

Georgia State Police Chief Sampson gave a warning for the university community.

“Be careful whether it’s a gun, knife, brick, hammer, crowbar or someone trying to kidnap you. Be cautious and be aware of your surroundings and take the necessary precautions to avoid any kind of harm or injury,” Sampson said.

Alluding to the Stroud and Arnold armed robbery, Chief Sampson reminded the community of what the consequences can be.

“All three of those guys were locked up before the sun came up the next morning. We had them captured [on cameras] when they walked into the building. We use a number of resources to identify, track and apprehend [those who commit campus crimes] and that’s what we did,” Sampson said.

The leading crime on the Georgia State campus is larceny/theft; more than 300 incidents are reported annually. Weapon possessions average three to four per year. The police department has about 32 handguns and rifles locked in its vaults confiscated over the past decade.