UHR votes “no” on HB 615

The Undergraduate House of Representatives (UHR) voted on Feb. 23 to pass a resolution opposing current legislation in the Georgia General Assembly to repeal the ban on concealed weapons at college and university campuses. The resolution was passed with a vote of 27-19, following an extensive discussion about the merits and consequences of the resolution.

“I have to say I was actually really proud about [the discussion]… [representatives] did a phenomenal job beyond whatever I was expecting, and even the other students who came out for the open forum held themselves really well and expressed their views and helped to get the discussion going,” said Austen Edwards, second-year INTA major and the author of the resolution.

“I was pleased with the thoughtful discussion at Tuesday’s UHR meeting. I am proud that many of our representatives have taken this issue very seriously and have gathered as much feedback as possible on it so that they could make an educated and well-founded decision on how to vote,” said Alina Staskevicius, undergraduate student body president.

The resolution was initially considered by UHR on Feb. 16, when representatives voted to postpone the discussion for one week. According to several representatives, this was done in order to gain a better understanding of student opinion. A campus-wide survey was made available to students through JacketPages on Feb. 18.

The survey received 2859 responses, with approximately 52.33 percent of students voting against allowing conceal and carry on campus. The results of an initial survey sent out using an online tool called SurveyMonkey were disregard upon discovering that it was insecure.

“Since our main priority was to accurately gauge student opinion, we re-created the survey, this time through JacketPages (which requires one to log in to vote). We sent the survey out again to students, asking for those who had voted to re-vote, and pleading those who had not voted yet to do so. We threw out the first set of results without even looking at them,” Staskevicius said.

Members of various campus organizations were present at the UHR meeting in order to present their viewpoints and engage in the debate. According to Teresa Crocker, the chief of police for the GTPD does not support the repeal of the ban on conceal and carry legislation on campus.

“Last year, we actually had a 16 percent reduction of crime on campus. Crimes against persons on this campus are in the single digits. Our main problem is property crime,” Crocker said.

Crocker noted that steps had been taken in order to combat crime off-campus, like increasing police presence and trying to reduce crime in Home Park by hosting clean-up and safety awareness events. She also described how crimes off campus follow a pattern of offenses before dropping off for a period of time. For example, she said that following a spate of incidents during the summer, Home Park recently had over 60 days without any robberies. Crocker concluded that people who live off campus had the right to own firearms but allowing them on campus would have an adverse effect on campus safety. During the open forum portion of the UHR meeting, representatives from an organization called Students for Concealed and Carry on Campus presented their case for allowing concealed weapons on campus.

“Criminals by definition are going to break the law, because they care only about making an easy buck. Laws banning conceal and carry affect only those that follow the law,” said a representative from the organization.

They argued that allowing conceal and carry on campus would not mean that every student on campus would be carrying a gun, and that a student had to take multiple steps in order obtain a Georgia Firearms License (GFL). For example, only students over the age of 21 would be allowed to carry a gun on campus, would have to stand before a probate judge and undergo separate background checks before being allowed to obtain a gun.

The discussion among representatives in UHR focused mainly on asserting the validity of the survey results and whether it would be appropriate for SGA to take a stand since the survey results did not provide a clear majority. At one point, a representative suggested that the wording of the bill be changed to reflect the disagreement on the issue.

Several representatives were dissatisfied about the fact that results were unavailable by major, making it difficult for them to gauge the opinions of their constituency.

Most representatives said that UHR should take a stand on the issue, especially since it would affect the lives of students and campus members. Proponents of the bill argued that regardless of the margin of difference in opinion in the survey, a majority of students did not support the legislation repealing the ban on conceal and carry on campus. Some reasoned that due to the nature of the issue, there was a very vocal minority, and that the percentage of respondents supporting conceal and carry were in the minority of overall student opinion.

“I actually went to Britain on Feb. 18 and I asked a lot of people what they thought and I spoke to people in my classes what I found was that most people actually against it but those who were in favor of it were really proactive,” said Daniel Nussenbaum, third-year ISYE major and junior class president who voted for the resolution.

Representatives against the resolution said that because the results of the survey were so close, it was important to represent the views of those in the minority be represented and not to issue a bill that generalized the opinion of the student body in a broad way. Some saw the existence of a vocal minority as a reason to vote against the resolution.

“I had to use personal judgment in listening to their arguments because realistically in an environment where people are more adamant about what they think, they tend to have more relevant arguments and it made a lot more sense to me… they set me to sight and referred me to arguments and statistics and showed that this worked at other schools for decades,” said Eran Mordel, first-year ISYE major and freshman class representative who voted against the resolution.