Students, faculty wait to see how Georgia’s newest gun law takes shape

Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision late Thursday to sign legislation allowing guns on every public college and university in Georgia left some students and faculty reeling, while others said they understand why some students might want to carry weapons.

University of Georgia junior Mallory Jessica Harris, who had organized rallies against the measure, said Friday that critics had been trading messages on Facebook about how to work with University System of Georgia officials.

“Right now, we are talking about what we do next,” said Harris, 21, who’s majoring in biology and math. “The big focus is how do we implement this.”

Supporters including 29-year-old Georgia State University law student Alex Ward, meanwhile, were already thinking of fixes to the law that would allow faculty to carry permitted weapons into their own offices.

And then there were students such as Georgia Tech junior Dustin Tyson, 23, who said he understood both sides of the debate. Tyson, who grew up in Milledgeville, said it’s alarming when he gets notices about campus crime.

“It’s kind of eye-opening,” said Tyson, who said the alerts make him understand the desire for some on campus to protect themselves with a firearm.

The timing of Deal’s approval came at the busiest time of the spring semester — during final exams and graduation ceremonies — and the governor will be on the Valdosta State University campus Saturday to give the commencement address.

Officials there have already begun to worry about the law’s effect, although the University System said it will finalize new policy guidelines for its schools before its July 1 effective date.

Still, not everyone is on board.

“This is a mistake,” said Brian Childress, the city of Valdosta’s police chief, who is worried the new law will increase chances that students may harm themselves or someone else. “It defies all of the logic and the data.”

Once it takes effect, House Bill 280 will allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms on public college and university campuses, with a number of exceptions that include dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses, and buildings used for athletic events. On-campus child care centers will also be excluded, as will areas where high school students attend class, offices or rooms used for disciplinary hearings, and faculty academic offices.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, has said it will restore a Second Amendment right to bear arms, and she noted that Georgia law requires anyone seeking a state permit to carry a concealed gun to be at least 21 years old. Applicants also must be fingerprinted and pass a background check.

Still, with little in the bill indicating how schools should implement the new rules, a number of faculty and students said they were not sure what to expect.

Deal’s signature made Georgia the 34th state to allow guns on it public campuses. Nine states allow concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty-four other states allow concealed carry weapons on campus but give each college or university the option to permit anyone to have a firearm.

Every state does it a little differently. Texas, for example, included provisions allowing gun safes and lockers in university housing in its measure last year. Georgia’s measure does not, and supporters including Ballinger have said it was conceived with the idea that most students over 21 are not going to be living on campus.

Some students are already pushing for officials to post signs on campus explicitly marking areas where people can carry guns and where they are off-limits.

University of North Georgia assistant English professor Matt Boedy recently sent administrators a list of questions he and other faculty members had about how the system would shape new campus gun rules. Among their questions: How do you know whether a gun holder has a permit; will the campus have to pay more money for insurance; and what would be the procedures for preventing students from carrying a firearm into their offices?

Boedy said he’s worried the law will result in some of his colleagues spending less time on campus out of fear that a shooting might occur.

“It would radically change what we do,” Boedy said.

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