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Variety of views expressed on campus carry at UNG town hall
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University of North Georgia student Nicholas Sikes participates in Thursday morning's town hall on House Bill 280, also known as "campus carry," at the Gainesville campus. The campus carry for state colleges and universities and colleges in Georgia is set to take effect July 1.

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UNG has set up a website with information and answers to commonly asked questions at https://ung.edu/police/campus-carry.

With the state’s campus carry law set to take effect Saturday, students, faculty and staff at a town hall meeting Thursday on the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus expressed a range of concerns from saying the law makes them feel unsafe to concerns it may be too restrictive.

UNG Police Chief Justin Gaines held the forum on House Bill 280, commonly referred to as the campus carry law, which was passed this spring by the state legislature. Approximately 30 people attended the session in the Continuing Education Auditorium, which was the seventh held so far on the five UNG campuses.

The bill makes 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.

During the meeting, Gaines addressed questions from the audience, as well as questions and answers that had already been published on the school’s website. He also read the law and guidelines from University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley.

Gaines told the audience that it is the responsibility of persons with the concealed weapons permits to make sure their actions do not violate the new law. Highlights of information Gaines shared about the law included:

• Faculty members can carry a handgun in the classroom as long as there are no high school students, but cannot take that gun into their own office. They would need to store the gun in a car, or faculty workroom, which would be considered a “common space.”

• Students with concealed weapons permits should check with the registrar every day they go to class during the drop/add period to make sure high school students have not added the class, making it illegal to carry the gun into the classroom.

• Areas outside professor’s offices could be considered common areas where concealed carry would be legal, even if faculty members were in those common areas.

• Faculty cannot limit or ban handguns from a classroom or ask students if they have a concealed weapon.

• In response to a question by a faculty member who asked, “Are they allowed to shoot it?” Gaines said they could shoot their concealed handgun in defense of themselves or others, but added, “Will they in compliance with the other laws of self defense and others? That’s to be determined based on the situations.”

• The penalty for violating the campus carry law is a $25 fine for those with concealed weapons permits. Those not holding the permit face felony charges for bringing a gun on campus.

“I’ll be honest with you, I’m feeling very unsafe,” Kel Lee Cutrell, associate director of counseling services at the Gainesville campus, said during the meeting.

After the meeting, Cutrell said she still has concerns about the law even though she trusts the university police.

“The law concerns me, but our university police do not,” she said. “A student can bring a gun into my workspace (and) they’re not necessarily going to care about a $25 fine if they have an agenda.They can come into our center with a gun, but not our office, but who’s going to stop them?”

Jamie Steele, who works at the counseling center on the Gainesville campus as a licensed professional counselor, said students coming into their offices are sometimes dealing with difficult situations.

“In a typical week, especially during a semester, we have a crisis a week where something  has happened,” Steele said. “My concern is you have a license to conceal and carry. You’re abiding by the rules except that you have this crisis. You come into our office seeking help and you’ve potentially put our safety in danger.”

Steele and Cutrell said university police will be coming to their office to meet with staff and help determine what things they can do to help ensure safety.

Nicholas Sikes, a junior at the Gainesville campus who has had a concealed weapons permit for about two years, said after the meeting he is concerned that some “soft targets,” such as classrooms where high school students are present, are exempted from the law, but believes the law is a good step.

“I would argue that high school students are some of our most valuable students, especially dual enrollment students, but there’s no way to make sure that those who are conceal carrying would act appropriately,” he said.

He added that the session was helpful for him even though he was told in answer to a question that he could be in a classroom of common area with his gun, but would have to take the gun to his car before he could ask the professor a question in the professor’s office.

“(The law) restricts you a little bit, but the best part about this is making it openly known that students across campus can now carry,” Sikes said. “That is going to be a huge deterrent for anyone who wants to make a political statement, a terrorist attack — anything like that — they are going to be far less likely to do so.”

More meetings are scheduled on the five UNG campuses before the fall semester begins. The next one on the Gainesville campus is Aug. 15.

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