House nears end of its legislation period

Above is a photograph of the Georgia State Capitol. The House recently passed a bill allowing conceal and carry on campus. / Photo by Jon Drews

The Georgia House of Representatives earlier this month passed two separate bills which would allow concealed carry on Georgia college campuses and create tougher enforcement on lottery machines and use five to ten percent of sales receipts to support the HOPE scholarship. The congressional names of the bills are HB 512 and HB 487, respectively.

The former, however, failed to pass as the legislature session came to a close.

“”This year was not the right time and we feel strongly that concealed carry is not the best for the campus environment,” said Undergraduate President Eran Mordel. “In the upcoming year, this topic will likely be raised again; the biggest move for us at GT is to engage and be engaged by students throughout the year, rather than just during legislative session.”

“[HB 512] is a comprehensive gun reform bill,” said Amit Khanduri, Undergraduate Vice President. “And the part that we were most concerned about how it affects higher education in the state of Georgia and what it says is that concealed carry would not be allowed in dorms, fraternities, athletic events, but otherwise it would essentially allow concealed carry on college campuses in Georgia.”

In response to the passage of HB 512, SGA Undergraduate and Graduate Presidents Eran Mordel and Michael Kirka, respectively, along with the student body presidents from seven other Georgia Universities sent a letter to the Georgia Senate to express opposition to the legislation.

“The collegiate environment is quite unique in its environmental risk factors that make the introduction of handguns a dangerous proposal,” the letter said. “College and university campuses are high-stress, high-population-density environments. Students live and work in very close proximity and constantly feel the pressure of schoolwork, finances, and issues with friends and family. When you add the prevalence of alcohol consumption on many campuses (as well as substance abuse among some students) to the mix, you often find an environment that is unusually conducive to physical conflicts and emotional breakdowns – especially considering the majority of the population under the age of 25.”

The presidents also expressed concern that concealed carry of guns would impede the ability of police to respond to an active shooter situation. Additionally, they remarked that guns are the likely targets for theft and that some students would feel unsafe in the classroom.

Student groups in support of the bill and similar measures such as Students for Concealed Carry have argued that students who have gone through the process of applying for the permit and have reached 21 years of age are responsible enough for gun ownership. They argue that students and staff have the right to carry firearms for personal protection.

Student opinion on the subject has been divided. The most recent survey of students was conducted in 2010 and showed 52 percent of students in opposition to allowing conceal and carry on the campus.

Lottery Machines

HB 487, which was passed by the House earlier in the month, also passed in the Georgia Senate with amendments. As of March 28, the bill had been revised by conference committees and was going to Governor Nathan Deal’s desk for approval.

The bill would provide additional enforcement and penalties against unlicensed lottery machines in the state to crack down on such machines. The measure would also transfer regulation of the machines from the Department of Revenue to the Lottery Corporation.

The bill also specified that a portion of the net receipts, which will be gathered as a levy on total sales in the lottery machines, will go to help fund the HOPE scholarship programs.

The HOPE and Zell Miller scholarships are entirely funded from revenues from the Georgia Lottery. Additional lottery revenue this past year facilitated a three percent increase in HOPE awards in the upcoming year, but several legislators and observers have been concerned that increases in tuition and enrollment would put the scholarship at risk. The additional revenue generated from HB 487 could help to alleviate some of the concern.