As HB 859 awaits Governor Deal’s signature, the potential impact of concealed carry on state campuses continues to inspire vigorous debate. To best predict the likely effects of HB 859 at Georgia colleges and universities, it is essential to examine campuses across the United States which already allow citizens to carry.
At present, eight states allow licensed students to carry concealed handguns on all public campuses: Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Oregon, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Idaho, and Utah.
Although these states’ legislation also specifies concealed carry, there are minor variations in the laws and practices adopted by each. For example, while Wisconsin and Kansas both grant individual schools the power to delineate some buildings as gun-free zones, Kansas requires that the school must first demonstrate the building has an appropriate level of security before doing so.
Nevertheless, the crucial issue at stake in Georgia is not necessarily how HB 859 will be enacted or how its provisions differ in minutiae from other states’ legislation. Rather, we must consider the effects of enacting a Campus Carry Bill, and how other state’s experiences can help us predict these likely results.
The principal concern for many is personal safety: Do concealed carry laws make college campuses safer or less safe?
Many opponents argue that the presence of guns on campuses will multiply incidents of accidental misfires, vigilante behavior, or intentional crimes and shootings. On the other hand, proponents assert that the presence of concealed firearms on licensed users improves campus safety by acting as a deterrent to lawless shooters and criminals.
But what’s the reality? Utah provides a prime example. The state implemented campus carry in the autumn of 2006, making it the first state to do so. The ten years since provides significant insights into the effects of the law. According to GeorgiaCarry.org’s analysis of U.S. Department of Justice crime statistics, between 2005 and 2011, the aggravated assault and robbery rate at Utah colleges and universities declined by 64 percent. Implementing the law also showed no correspondence with incidents of campus shootings. While it is difficult to determine a direct link between the legislation and this decline in crime levels, the reality is that the potential issues raised by many opponents of campus carry have, overwhelmingly, not manifested themselves.
The head of Utah State University’s Department of Health, Steven Mecham, told the Idaho Reporter that “we haven’t had much of a problem with [safety]. It’s not been an issue,” while a University of Utah spokesperson, Maria O’Mara, acknowledged that the University had “no incidents on campus regarding [campus carry].”
A second argument central to the issue of HB 859 concerns the ability of colleges and universities to maintain a diverse intellectual atmosphere with the presence of guns on campus. In an op-ed for Slate.com Sonja West, an associate professor at the University of Georgia School of Law, writes that “students and faculty might also be chilled from expressing potentially controversial ideas and arguments.” Even supporters of HB 859 should not aim to refute West’s argument entirely — it is compelling and presents legitimate concerns about the legislation.
For many campus carry proponents, however, concerns about intellectual environment based on legalized campus carry must be considered alongside recent precedents. Studies in Texas have shown that citizens with concealed carry licenses are over five times less likely to commit a violent crime than the average citizen. Furthermore, on all of the college campuses across the country that allow concealed carry, a classroom debate has never turned into a shooting involving a licensed carrier.
Law-abiding citizens with concealed carry licenses are not violent and volatile campus shooters, as they are so often portrayed. They are normal men and women who want to have the ability to protect themselves — and others around them — against potentially deadly assaults from illegal carriers. This does not make a concern for intellectual freedom on campus illegitimate or entirely discount the possibility of future incidents. It may, however, say something about the likelihood that such an incident will affect the University of Georgia.
In short, personal safety and freedom of speech form the core of the debate over campus carry wherever it surfaces. Rather than giving in to fear or an uninformed perception of these issues, we should examine the facts as they have played out across the U.S. and let our perspective on HB 859 be guided by them.
Photo courtesy of the good people at Alien Gear Holsters.
—Desmond Sandoval is a junior studying accounting