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Guns one step closer to being OK at public colleges
Crowd at UNG gathering strongly favors measure
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Georgia State Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, right, shakes hands with Assistant Legislative Counsel Julius Tolbert after a Senate committee on Monday approved Jasperse's bill that would permit those with concealed carry weapons licenses to bring their guns onto public college campuses. The Senate committee's approval on Monday brings Georgia lawmakers one step closer to passing the bill, which could reach the Senate floor this week. - photo by Associated Press

A crowd of more than 100 people at a forum on the “campus carry” bill was overwhelmingly in favor of the legislation.

Two Georgia representatives ­– Timothy Barr, who represents South Hall County, and David Clark, who is from Buford – and Major Mike Ramsey, a 22-year law enforcement veteran – all favored a more lenient law than the one being proposed.

The “campus carry” bill would allow licensed gunowners to carry concealed weapons on college campuses – except sporting arenas and student housing, which would include residence halls and fraternity and sorority houses.

That bill was passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday and now goes to the full Senate. It already has passed in the House.

The UNG Faculty Senate voted Monday to oppose the campus carry legislation.

The resolution says, “The Faculty Senate of the University of North Georgia opposes any bill put forth by the state of Georgia that could prohibit universities and community colleges from banning the carrying of firearms by non-law enforcement officials on the grounds and in any building of universities and community colleges in the state of Georgia.”

The faculty also noted, “University presidents, faculty, and students across the state of Georgia have expressed their serious concerns on the destabilizing impacts the passage of Bill HB 859 will have on our campus communities and the sanctity of the learning environments.”

But participants in the Monday night meeting disagreed. 

More than a dozen people spoke or asked questions. Most voiced support for the legislation.

Clark repeatedly told the crowd “the stats are all on the side of campus carry.”

He said people with gun licenses are “the most law abiding citizens in the country.”

Barr said, “So far no one’s been able to show me any data that this has been an issue.”

He said 23 states have similar laws and none have had problems because of it. He, and Clark, pointed to Colorado, which he said has had a similar law for 13 years and had one incident of a shooting that was not justified.

“(The bill is) going to save lives,” Clark insisted.

Multiple people asked about training for those who might carry guns on campus.

Barr said he would oppose mandatory training.

“I would err on the side of liberty,” he said.

An audience member agreed, saying “because it’s in the Constitution.”

A couple of the questioners wondered why the bill has restrictions on where guns can be carried. He said sporting events have the most people – which could hinder a response from law enforcement – and he said he wanted to be able to carry to sporting events.

“I’m my first line of defense,” he said.

Barr said the restrictions, particularly the one on sporting events, were “the number one priority” of the state’s university presidents, who oppose the bill.

He said that restriction was required to get the bill passed.

Critics called it a dangerous bill, but a co-sponsor, Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, said supporters believe it boosts the safety of college students around the state.

“There is a lot of anger and a lot of fear, but I feel like we are more about empowering students to be able to take responsibility for their personal safety,” she said.

Several amendments from bill opponent Sen. Vincent Fort were voted down. He proposed requiring citizens to provide proof of extensive firearms training before obtaining a concealed carry permit, and putting the issue before voters in a referendum.

Fort said the bill is being pushed by the National Rifle Association and a nonprofit pro-gun group called GeorgiaCarry.org.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, seven other states now allow people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin.

 The NCSL says 23 states leave the decision to ban or allow weapons up to the individual colleges and universities, and 19 states -- including Georgia -- currently ban concealed weapons on campuses.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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