Our Opinion: Shooting Down House Bill 29

Gun control is a topic that has prompted much national discussion in the past few months. Legislators in many states have proposed changes to existing laws regarding the possession and carrying of firearms on college and university campuses. Georgia’s House Bill (HB) 29, also known as the Campus Carry Act of 2013, would, if passed, permit the carrying of concealed weapons on campuses across the state. Private schools like Emory, however, would be permitted to dictate their own policies, as Charles Gregory, the state representative who is sponsoring the bill, told the Wheel in an interview.

HB 29 was recently introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives and assigned to the Public Safety and Homeland Security committee. If the bill were to pass, anybody who wished to carry a firearm on a college campus would have to be at least 21 years of age – one of the requirements for obtaining a gun permit in Georgia.

Emory has yet to release an official statement on the proposed legislation, but given the aforementioned circumstances, we at the Wheel would like to express our opposition to any measure that would allow the presence of firearms on our campus.

We oppose the presence of firearms on campus for the very basic reason that we believe guns create more risks than they prevent. Although gun rights advocates might argue otherwise, we maintain that owning and carrying a firearm does not better enable a person to better protect him or herself. We cannot help but feel that more guns is simply not the proper solution to gun violence.

Furthermore, we believe our campus is not a place where gun violence – or any other crime that might be prevented by carrying a concealed weapon – is a present danger. Our campus is located in a suburban area in which dangerous crime and acts of violence are few and far between. Unlike an urban campus, where university buildings are a contiguous part of the city itself, our campus is isolated from the surrounding neighborhoods and is relatively well defined. The benefit of such a design is that traffic flows through a few distinct points of entry and exit, reducing the risk of an inadvertent and potentially dangerous intruder. While it would be naïve to assert that there is absolutely no crime at Emory or in its surrounding area, we would rather let the appointed law enforcement officials handle these situations.

Those who support the prospect of campus carry have also argued that taking an actively anti-gun stance might present our campus as a target to those who would do us harm. While this is a legitimate concern, we believe that the odds of such a tragic event are significantly low. The presence of more firearms on campus would invariably increase the risk of a shooting, be it accidental or intentional.

The risks associated with having more guns in an area is increased ever more by the fact that college campuses are areas where people typically consume alcohol and use drugs. It is an undisputed fact that alcohol impairs a person’s judgment and hinders a person’s motor skills. While we cannot say, for a fact, that these substances will lead to particularly tragic events involving guns, we can say that the mere knowledge that someone under the influence has a firearm will make us uncomfortable and concerned for our own safety.

In December, the presidents of Agnes Scott College and Oglethorpe University published an open letter online, expressing opposition to legislation permitting guns on college campuses. They also pointed out that mental health is an area that the nation must address, given the released details about the individuals who have executed shooting rampages in the past year. While more than 300 college presidents have since signed the letter, University President James W. Wagner did not. He told the Wheel that he feels it is “not my place to recommend one remedy or the other,” but he also specified: “We will be forcefully opposing any change in the current status we and other colleges and universities across the state enjoy.”

We at the Wheel urge President Wagner and the University administration to issue a statement explaining the sort of policy Emory would enact in the event that HB 29 is, in fact, passed. While President Wagner has stated in a Wheel interview that he opposes the concept of eliminating guns as “school safety zones,” as would occur should the bill pass, we maintain that an official statement from the administration would give the campus community peace of mind necessary with the knowledge that, regardless of the future of HB 29, we would be granted the same protections we currently enjoy.

Furthermore, with the amount of confusion surrounding the potential implications of HB 29, we feel the campus would benefit from knowing where the administration stands on the issue. Although such a statement has the potential to stir up even more controversy, we feel that the administration could utilize the moment to encourage a healthy dialogue on campus, perhaps through a forum or panel discussion. We look forward to hearing from the administration on this matter.