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UNG gets ready for campus carry
Police chief holds town hall to educate faculty, students
08162017GUNS
University of North Georgia Chief of Police Justin Gaines talks to a group of students, faculty and staff on the Gainesville campus. - photo by Norm Cannada

With classes set to start Monday, University of North Georgia Police Chief Justin Gaines was at the Gainesville campus Tuesday for a third town hall there answering questions and providing information about the state’s campus carry law.

Gaines has done more than a dozen of the meetings over the past few months on UNG’s five campuses. Like the last one in Gainesville in June, Gaines dealt with some faculty and staff members concerned that people could walk on campus with a concealed handgun.

“Where is our rights?” asked one person who did not identify herself but said she was concerned she is not allowed to know who has a gun in her classroom.

“It’s not for me to answer,” Gaines said. “All I can tell you is what the law is.”

Gaines said the law “does not change the way law enforcement responds to threats.”

“I look at anybody and say, ‘You probably have a gun,’ because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here talking to you,” he said. “The person who has the permit has gone through the process of having the permit and buying the weapon. The law says they should know the law and comply with it.”

House Bill 280, known commonly as campus carry, became law July 1. The law made it legal for those with a Georgia weapons carry license to have a concealed handgun in some campus areas previously prohibited. But the law continues to make it illegal to carry a concealed weapon in many areas, including: sites of athletic events; student housing; any preschool or child care space; any space used for classes related to a college and career academy or other specialized school; any space used for classes where high school students are enrolled; faculty, staff or administration offices and any rooms where disciplinary proceedings are conducted.

Donna Foster, who identified herself as an office administrator, said she was concerned she was not on equal ground with people who have permits.

“I don’t go anywhere but my office, and so by law I am prohibited from having a handgun in my own office,” she said. “I’m not concerned about whether someone is lawfully carrying or not lawfully carrying. Even a licensed carrier, can have an emotional meltdown. The lawfully licensed carrier now has the upper hand over me who might very well be lawfully licensed to carry, but I can’t carry in my office. So it’s rendering us defenseless.”

Greg Williams, assistant director for emergency preparedness on the public safety staff, said the new law is only designed to give “law-abiding citizens” the right to carry weapons on some areas of campus.

“Criminals, they didn’t care about the law before; they’re not going to care now. They’re called criminals for a reason. This just allows typically law-abiding citizens to have their firearms with them on campus.”

Williams added that there had not been any problems reported regarding the law since it took effect July 1.

Alex Mullins, a sophomore who has a concealed carry permit, said he understands the concerns of faculty and staff and said they should be able to carry a weapon “in their own office.”

“It’s understandable,” Mullins said. “There are a lot of opinions on the subject, so it didn’t surprise me that there were numerous professors or staff members here that were not in favor of this at all. But at the same time it doesn’t really change the fact that even before July 1, students could have come in with a weapon whether or not they were planning on doing something with it, other than illegally carrying it.

“I don’t think (the law) changed the environment; I think it just changed the awareness of it,” he added. “It went from the thought of only dangerous people can have a weapon in my classroom to now anyone can have weapon in my classroom, provided that they’re 21 years old and have gone through the background checks and actually have a permit now. I think overall the way it is written is done fairly well.”

Gaines recommended that students and faculty take cellphones into classrooms so they could alert officials about police or medical emergencies either through a call or by using the school’s public safety app, Rave Guardian.

“It may not be a person with a gun; it may be someone seizing on the floor in your classroom that needs (attention for) a medical emergency right then and right there,” he said.

Gaines said he hopes the town halls in recent months have been beneficial to those who attended.

“The whole point of it is for voluntary compliance,” he said. “We protect and serve, but we also educate. Education is a big part of what we do. By investing the time to educate, I think it has been a benefit. Time will tell if it has been.”