House Bill 859, also known as the “campus carry” bill, passed the state House of Representatives in a vote Monday, Feb. 22, 2016.
With a final vote of 113-59, the campus carry bill passed the House and moved on to the Senate after over an hour of discussion and speeches from legislators on both sides of the issue. The bill would allow anyone 21 or older with a concealed carry weapons permit to carry a gun on a public college or university campus statewide. HB 859 would restrict guns in dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses and athletic events.
The bill made significant progress when it passed the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee Tuesday, Feb. 16. This came as a surprise to some legislators because it wasn’t on the original agenda. Committee Chairman Alan Powell, a sponsor of HB 859, added it at the last minute. Democrats protested the vote, but, since committee chairs have the power to add bills unannounced, there was little that could be done.
This campus carry bill is not the first effort that legislators have made to increase gun owners’ rights in the state of Georgia. In 2014, HB 60 was passed and signed into law, adding several new provisions for carrying weapons in churches and bars that allow it, certain areas of the airport, and even on school property.
According to the language of the law, it allows for the carrying of firearms by any “duly authorized official of a public or private elementary or secondary school or a public or private technical school, vocational school, college, university, or other institution of post-secondary education or a local board of education.”
HB 859 was filed by Rep. Rick Jasperse and Rep. Mandi Ballinger. The bill’s sponsors include Powell of the public Safety Committee as well as Rep. John Meadows, chairman of the powerful Rules Committee which decides if bills make it to the house floor or not.
“Our position on it is pretty clear,” Jasperse told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution in an interview. “We are resorting rights to Georgians.”
Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Utah, Wisconsin and Oregon are states that already allow students to carry guns on campus. Texas’ version of a campus carry law will go into effect August 2016. Despite its passage, this new law does not have the support of everyone in the state.
“I do not believe handguns belong on a university campus, so this decision has been the greatest challenge of my presidency to date,” University of Texas President Gregory Fenves said. “The presence of handguns at an institution of higher learning is contrary to our mission of education and research, which is based on inquiry, free speech and debate.”
Many students have concerns about the presence of guns on their campus, especially in light of recent incidents that resulted in fatalities. In 2015 alone, there were 353 mass shootings and 62 shootings at schools according to Gun Violence Archive.
“Division is created when we make steps towards ‘what if’ scenarios becoming reality instead of believing that no one is out to get us — that my neighbor is not my enemy,” said Avery Lynch, a junior majoring in communication. “Gun violence is not thwarted by more guns; it is stopped through the desire to care for my neighbor rather than separate myself from them behind the banner of defense.”
Other students see the benefits of campus carry but are still wary of possible negative outcomes.
“I understand that students would feel better being able to personally protect themselves from various dangers, but honestly I’m worried about it,” said Neena Carter, a junior majoring in information systems. “Young adults are often quick-tempered and emotional, which could potentially lead to unpredictable events.”
There are students who are happy to see the bill progressing through the legislature.
“If you’re well-informed enough and know how to use a concealed weapon, then I would say I’m more pro-gun,” Conner Hursh, a sophomore business major, said. “It’s all about the person, it’s not entirely about the gun itself.