Bill permitting guns on college campuses clears first Gold Dome hurdle, heads to Senate

Dorms, frat houses, and athletic events would be excluded, much to some lawmakers’ dismay

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The Georgia House of Representatives approved a controversial bill on Monday that would allow guns to be carried on most areas of the state’s public college and university campuses.

The proposed bill, the Campus Safety Act, would allow students and non-students who are licensed to tote guns to carry and possess firearms on Georgia’s public campuses, with the exclusion of dorms, fraternity and sorority houses, and athletic facilities.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, called the proposal “a real world solution to a real world problem.” He emphasized that students should be able to “utilize their constitutional rights to defend themselves.” Jasperse also claimed the bill would not require additional campus security because Georgia’s licensed gun holders are “statistically, the most law-abiding citizens.”

State Rep. Dusty Hightower, R-Carrollton, stressed the state’s need to get back to an “innocent until proven guilty” mentality when dealing with firearm owners, and that people need to be brave enough to trust each other. “This bill is a step in the right direction,” he said, adding that he thought the bill did not go far enough.

State Rep. Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins, said there are already guns on campuses, and state Rep. Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown, cited stories of college students being robbed, attacked, and raped.

“It’s time to help those college students in need,” Kelley said.

But lawmakers who took to the well to speak in opposition claimed the bill was unncessary. State Rep. Virgil Fludd, D-Tyrone, argued that university leaders, staff members, and faculty should be the ones making the decision on guns on campus, not the government. He also warned that the cost of beefing up security on campuses throughout the state would drastically raise the already high cost of tuition.

State Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, argued the bill “undermines school safety and academic freedom,” and the presence of guns on campus will instill “fear and paranoia among students.”

State Rep. Dewey McClain, D-Lawrenceville, pointed out the cost of security, while also noting safety concerns regarding firearms and binge drinking at sporting event tailgates.

Patty Bentley, D-Butler, spoke up for female students in particular. “Guns on campuses is not the answer for keeping women safer on college campuses,” she said, saying “they will go to college fearing for their lives and bodies.” She also pointed out that nearly 75 percent of college students aren’t old enough to even have a carrying permit.

The House, however, ultimately passed the legislation 113-59. The proposal will now move to the Senate.