The Georgia Senate this month gave final passage to a bill that would legalize firearms at all public colleges in Georgia. Colleges and universities across the state, including Armstrong, have held forums to discuss details and concerns surrounding the bill.
House Bill 859, yet to be signed by Governor Nathan Deal, would allow persons over the age of 21 to carry a concealed handgun onto Georgia college campuses as soon as July 1. The only locations exempt are dormitories, fraternities and sororities houses and at athletic events.
On March 24, a crowd of mostly professors and university officials gathered in Armstrong’s Ogeechee Theatre for the Campus Carry Forum designed to address questions and concerns regarding House Bill (HB) 859.
President Linda Bleicken announced her viewpoint on the controversial bill: “On Monday, a letter from me was delivered to Governor Deal supporting the current law and asking that it remain so that we not have this new law.”
She went on to say that other University System of Georgia presidents have also submitted similar letters.
According to forum panelist and Armstrong State University attorney Lee Davis, professors could not prohibit concealed firearms in their classrooms, nor could the university opt out or alter the bill’s stipulations.
Many of the professors in attendance were specifically concerned about guns being brought into their classroom.
A student with a gun may force professors to a carry a gun for protection, which is something that most do not wish to do. One professor stated, “the unfortunate part is that we are being forced to make that choice.”
Another choice professors would have to make is whether or not to call the police. Panelist Wayne Wilcox, Armstrong’s Chief of Police, said his squad could not come into the classroom “and detain somebody strictly for the purpose of determining whether or not they have a license.”
“Complaint[s],” Wilcox said, “have to be based upon behavior,” not suspicion of or catching a glimpse of a gun.
Protests against the bill have taken place within the past weeks at Georgia schools, such as the University of Georgia and Kennesaw State University. A list of petitions have been started by students, including Armstrong’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Some students, on the other hand, seem to be in favor of HB 859.
Ethan Pringle, a student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said “the bill’s intention is to lessen the chances of our school becoming a helpless target to an armed gunman.”
Fellow student Matthew Ferreira also believes that under the current regulations, Armstrong is ill-prepared for a campus shooting.
“Right now, if an active shooter were to come into our school, not a single student or faculty member would be able to defend himself or herself. That is unacceptable. I will feel much more safe with the ability to carry a weapon to defend myself as opposed to being defenseless against an assailant,” Ferreira said.
Neither Ferreira nor Pringle possess a campus carry license. They both intend to get a license and would willingly participate in a free gun safety class if one was offered by the school.
The idea of training teachers and new carriers how to properly carry and fire a gun via a Student Veteran Affairs or campus police training seminar was entertained by all.
The bill also states that the weapons must be concealed. Concealed carry permits require background checks and fingerprinting. The panelists stressed that the majority of students would not qualify for a concealed carry license because they are not 21 years or older. Also, students of age would have to pass a background check, be fingerprinted, pay $37 to the clerk’s office and invest a significant amount of money in a handgun.
Wilcox reminded attendees that “it wasn’t because they didn’t allow guns on campus,” that students, faculty and staff picked Armstrong. “It doesn’t change who we are. It doesn’t change who the organization is,” he said.
Governor Deal has until May 3 to sign the bill or have his authority overridden by a veto. The resulting legislation would become effective on July 1.