An invitation to repeal Georgia’s campus carry bill

Photo courtesy of Gene Phillips

On Oct. 23, 2015, Georgia Tech unveiled a bronze statue commemorating Albert Einstein, cast by the renowned sculptor Robert Berks. The timing was certainly apt.

A month before, an international team of researchers, including members of Georgia Tech’s Center for Relativistic Astrophysics, detected the ripples of gravitational waves propagating outwards at the speed of light — remnants of a 1.3 billion year-old collision of two black holes.

A century before, Einstein had predicted that such events, however rare they might be, would leave their mark. He was right.

The bronze Einstein that sits in the heart of Georgia Tech’s campus is holding a stack of papers, inviting all who pass by to pause and reflect. The papers send a message about our values: we put Einstein on a pedestal because his ideas have reshaped our understanding of matter, space, and time.

On July 1, 2017, Georgia Tech has communicated another message, reflecting a different set of values. There will be no statue and no unveiling to mark the start of classes. But faculty, students and the community already know the campus has changed.

All who come to our campus, and indeed any State of Georgia college or university, now have the legal right to carry a concealed handgun with a valid permit. According to a 2012 United States Government Accountability Office report, approximately 1 of 10 eligible Georgia residents have such permits.

The Georgia Tech community does not need more handguns on campus. The vast majority who come to campus do so for all the right reasons.

A 2014 FBI analysis documents that violent crime on Georgia colleges is approximately seven times less frequent than in the state at large.

Indeed, in vetoing a similar bill in 2016, Governor Deal said: “From the early days of our nation and state, colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed. To depart from such time-honored protections should require overwhelming justification. I do not find that such justification exists.”

What has changed in the past year? What good does a handgun serve in the backpack of a student sitting in a classroom or working in a laboratory? Why do we need more visitors carrying weapons to our campus grounds and buildings?

In assessing various other campus carry bills and gun-related incidents, a 2016 Johns Hopkins public health policy report concluded that more guns on campus are “unlikely to lead to fewer mass shootings”. Instead, concealed carry laws can “have a deleterious impact on the safety of students, faculty, and staff”. In essence, concealed handgun laws are bad policy.

But the effort to initiate campus carry in Georgia has never been about using policy as an instrument to serve the public good. Instead, the Republican-majority Georgia state legislature and Governor Deal have dictated the kind of campus culture that they rather than we — as a community of scholars, students, and staff — want to build together.

We are here as scholars and educators to discover, build and enable the development of young minds and, in turn, to fulfill the potential of this state, our country and the world.

The legislators and Governor Deal, who supported the right to carry concealed handguns on college campuses, certainly understand all of this. Perhaps it is precisely because they understand our mission as educators, that they have decided to offer us an
introductory lesson of raw power.

In this sense, Einstein’s statue has another lesson to impart. At its base the statue marks the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As Einstein famously remarked: “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”

I fear that we lack sufficient understanding to recognize that it could be possible in the state of Georgia for adults to own handguns but remain illegal to bring these weapons to sensitive areas — included college campuses — where they do not serve the common good.

Georgia Tech and campuses throughout the USG are already served by their campus police and local police departments. Let them do their jobs. I urge the legislators to take the power they have and exercise an even greater form of power: the power of restraint. The concealed handgun bill is certainly now law but it need not be law forever.

I urge the state legislature to repeal the concealed handgun bill and let us get back to educating Georgia and the world, and together leave a ripple across our small corner of the Universe.