Since the tragedy at Newtown, Conn. shook the United States on Dec. 14, the debate over gun control has made its way back into the national spotlight. In the past month alone, several state legislatures have taken steps to either enhance or reduce gun control measures in the country.
In Georgia, State Representative Charles Gregory (R-Kennesaw) introduced four bills last month that would eliminate many of the state’s current restrictions on concealed weapons. This includes House Bill (HB) 29, or the Campus Carry Act of 2013, which would allow those with permits to carry guns at both public and private colleges and universities.
An individual may obtain a permit in Georgia only if he or she is 21 years of age or older, has not been convicted of a felony and has no history of drug or alcohol abuse or mental illness.
The bill itself would revise Georgia’s current state law that prohibits the carrying of firearms in government buildings and school safety zones, striking colleges and universities from these two categories. In regard to government buildings, the bill states, “That such term shall not mean the campus of any public or private technical school, vocational school, college, university or institution of postsecondary education.”
While the bill is only in its initial stages in the Georgia legislature, some Emory students have, as of recently, taken action against its enactment. College junior and Young Democrats of Emory Vice President of Communications Alex Nathanson and College senior and Wheel Editor-at-Large James Sunshine established Emory Students Against Guns on Campus, opposing HB 29 because of its potential implications for the Emory community.
“I felt like it was a good idea to try and organize something on campus to oppose changes that would affect everybody,” Nathanson said. “I think it’s a poorly crafted bill. It doesn’t allow exceptions for private colleges to craft their own policies when it comes to concealed carry.”
In addition to HB 29, Representative Gregory has introduced other bills that would allow the carrying of concealed weapons in places of worship, parks and historical sites, and would remove the governor’s authority to suspend the sale and transportation of guns in an emergency.
Ron Sauder, Emory’s vice president for communication and marketing, wrote in an email to the Wheel that it is too soon to assess what the full impact of the proposed legislation at the University would be.
“We expect other legislation to be introduced,” Sauder wrote, noting that it would be important to review all legislation before “properly assessing the impact on our campus and our facilities and evaluating our position.”
University President James W. Wagner wrote in an email to the Wheel that with Emory’s interest “in the safety and security of our campus,” the University will “continue to advocate for the preservation of campuses as school safety zones on which carrying of firearms is prohibited by Georgia law.”
Currently, only members of the Emory Police Department, Emory Hospitals security officers and local, state or federal law enforcement agencies can carry guns on campus, according to Sauder.
Students Weigh In
The states of Oregon, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Utah and Colorado currently allow concealed weapons on campuses. Twenty-one states have laws forbidding gun carrying at colleges. And in 23 states, the decision is left up to the schools.
Students across Georgia and at Emory have mixed opinions about the prospect of guns on campus.
“I completely find it revolting and don’t see how this will help get guns off the streets,” College senior Jonathan Demar said. “In fact, I would worry more about my safety because of this legislation.”
First-year student at the School of Medicine Ian McCullough noted that the bill, even if it were to pass, would not apply to most undergraduates due to the required age for obtaining a gun permit in the state.
“What makes a university so different from virtually any place in Georgia where legal permit holders are allowed to carry?” he added.
Still, in an 11Alive/SurveyUSA poll conducted last week, a majority — 65 percent — of Georgia respondents said they would want the current law, not the proposed legislation, to be in effect. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said gun carrying should be allowed on campuses.
For Nathanson, the student who has begun spearheading efforts opposing the legislation on campus, the Emory group’s initiative is just beginning. Thus far, he has discussed the topic with University administrators, and plans are in the works to raise awareness through posters, events and social media. He’s also reached out to student government campus organizations to garner support for the cause.
“Regardless of your views on the Second Amendment, it’s a bad bill for Emory because it would be costly and impractical for the school,” Nathanson said.
A number of student groups in addition to the one at Emory have sprung up in Georgia, though most of them don’t hold the same position.
Students at six Georgia colleges and universities — Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, Southern Polytechnic State University, Clayton State University and the University of Georgia — have established Students for Concealed Carry groups on their respective campuses.
Students for Concealed Carry is a national, student-run organization, “which advocates for legal concealed carry on college campuses in the United States as an effective means of self-defense,” according to the organization’s website. The group at Georgia Tech formed soon after a rise in crime on the school’s campus during this past summer.
College Presidents Express Their Views
Last month, Agnes Scott College President Elizabeth Kiss and Oglethorpe University President Lawrence Schall published an open letter, expressing their opposition to legislation that would allow concealed weapons on campuses. More than 300 college presidents across the country have signed the letter.
“We are college and university presidents,” the letter states. “We are parents. We are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We urge both our President and Congress to take action on gun control now.”
Wagner did not sign the letter but specified that the University’s positions “are in harmony with the intent of the letter.” He wrote that he is “not qualified to judge specific policy prescriptions for reducing these horrific incidents.”
“In my capacity as president of Emory, it is not my place to recommend one remedy or the other,” he wrote. “What I do feel both qualified and obligated to do is express a strong opinion on what kind of campus climate and security environment we want to foster at Emory, and that is why we will be forcefully opposing any change in the current status we and other colleges and universities across the state enjoy.”
However, the Association of American Universities (AAU) — of which Emory is a member — issued a statement on Jan. 2, also supporting gun control. The AAU is a nonprofit organization consisting of 62 research universities in the United States and Canada.
“We believe that strong, meaningful action needs to occur in three domains: gun control, care of the mentally ill and the culture of our contemporary media,” the letter states.
National and state-wide gun-control controversies continue, as students, legislators and college officials take action.
“I thought this was an issue that would resonate with people in a way that a lot of other political issues wouldn’t,” Nathanson said, in reference to starting Emory Students Against Guns on Campus.
This article is part of an ongoing series on gun control at colleges and universities. Read the second story in the series here.
— By Jordan Friedman