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School officials weigh House gun bill

POSTED: March 9, 2013 12:43 a.m.

Local education leaders have had mixed reactions to legislation that passed out of the Georgia House of Representatives on Thursday that would allow authorized school personnel to carry guns at school.

The bill applies to public and private schools ranging from elementary school to institutions of postsecondary education and local school boards.

If it becomes law, House Bill 512 would allow local authorities to decide whether to allow weapons. At least one school official in Gainesville said he supports the bill and the Hall County lawmakers who all voted for it.

It now moves to the state Senate for consideration.

Schools have become a focus of national attention in the gun debate since the December mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

“I don’t think it’s as scary as everybody thinks,” said John Kennedy, head of school for Lakeview Academy, a private school in Gainesville.

Lakeview has nearly 600 students, from 3-year-olds to 12th graders. Kennedy said he likes that the proposal leaves it up to the schools to decide. The school’s board of trustees is responsible for policies and strategic planning.

The academy hired an armed police officer over the Christmas holiday break and has explored every other option to make sure the campus is safe, Kennedy said.

Others are less impressed with the plan.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” said Delores Diaz, vice chairwoman of the Gainesville City School District Board of Education.

Diaz believes the solution to violence in schools is resource officers, trained police officers on school campuses. Having other school personnel, such as teachers, carry concealed weapons could result in human error and be dangerous, she said.

Diaz did note that the bill leaves it to the school officials.

“At least they left it up to local boards to make the decision,” she said.

Schools in rural areas are sitting ducks, said Jerry Henry, executive director of GeorgiaCarry.Org, a pro gun rights organization, because they are farther from police stations. Teachers in Harrold, Texas, carry concealed weapons because the sheriff’s office is 30 minutes away.

Current Georgia law also allows school principals to carry weapons on schools campuses, Henry said.

“The longer it takes for police to get there, the longer a person can fire,” he said.

Brenau University officials believe current law has protected everyone on college campuses, public and private, said David Morrison, vice president of the college’s communications and publications.

“Although we are pleased that the version of the bill passed the House with the provision that private colleges retain the right to determine safety and security policies for their campuses, we continue our support for the law as it exists now,” he said.

Morrison also said the university stands with the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia in opposition to allowing guns on campus.

The bill loosens restrictions on licensed gun owners carrying guns in bars and churches. Current state law makes churches and bars off limits unless someone has the owner’s permission, but the proposed law would treat these places the same as every place of private property, Henry said.

People carrying concealed weapons don’t have to ask permission beforehand under the bill, but they can be asked to leave.

“I’m hoping it’s going to pass,” he said. “If it’s heard and passes in committee, it has a good chance.”


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