Photo by John Nakano

The tragic shootings at Virginia Tech (2007) and Northern Illinois University (2008) sparked a national debate over gun control and renewed a sense of urgency to pass laws deterring gun violence on college campuses.

In 2012, 16 states introduced legislation to allow concealed weapons on campuses and three states introduced legislation prohibiting weapons on campus. None of these bills passed. Today, there are only five states that unequivocally allow carrying concealed weapons on the campuses of public universities; the rest prohibit concealed carry on campus or permit colleges to set their own gun policies.
This year, the Georgia State Legislature is considering House and Senate Bills (HB 512, SB 101) that would allow for concealed carry on the University System of Georgia’s university campuses.

After conversations with concealed carry advocates, members of Tech administration, and many students at Tech—I am convinced that allowing concealed carry on university campuses will not create a safe environment for students.

“In the tragic case of an active shooter on campus, having guns present could undermine our campus safety officials’ ability to adequately protect students.”

In the tragic case of an active shooter on campus, having guns present could undermine our campus safety officials’ ability to adequately protect students—officers can more easily identify potential criminals with guns. A report from TIME magazine stated that New York City police officers are able to hit their target 18% of the time in gunfights. An average student or faculty member, without the benefit of rigorous law enforcement training, is likely to fare far worse, further complicating an already chaotic situation, and unintentionally harming innocent bystanders.

Maintaining the classroom environment as gun-free is critical to fostering open, balanced and non-threatening discussions, especially given the already high stress levels among many students. The collegiate environment is unique in its environmental risk factors. Students live and work in very close proximity and constantly feel the pressure of schoolwork, finances and issues with friends and family. The added prevalence of alcohol consumption and even substance abuse creates an environment that is unusually conducive to physical conflicts and emotional breakdowns.

“Maintaining the classroom environment as gun-free is critical to fostering open, balanced and non-threatening discussions…”

HB-512 was passed with few days left in this legislative session. In order to effectively provide input in the legislative process, Undergraduate and Graduate Presidents Mordel and Kirka, along with student body presidents from eight different campuses—including UGA, GSU and KSU—co-signed a letter to our elected officials expressing opposition to this measure. While this sentiment does not canvass every student’s opinion, the thoughts outlined stem from conversations and experiences with students, campus administrators and members of the Georgia University System over the past few years. Important to note is that for the first time, opposition to concealed carry has been publicly conveyed by all 19 members of the Board of Regents and the University System Chancellor.

Unfortunately, the topic of concealed carry overshadows the more critical issues on our campus: mental health and campus safety. Committing more resources to bettering the learning environment and reducing the amount of unnecessary stress students face would go further in reducing crime, improving student life and changing the national conversation.

Most crimes as reported by the Clery Act Alerts occur on the peripheries of campus where availability of lighting at night is inadequate and little foot traffic exists. Simple solutions such as adding more street lighting and enhancing transportation alternatives for those who live off campus could go a long way to address these concerns without the need for firearms.

Ultimately, concealed carry would likely make college campuses a more dangerous environment. Even if one could make an argument otherwise, it would be irresponsible to do so before addressing the bigger issues of mental health and campus safety.