Lawmakers want views on campus gun ban

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ATLANTA --- University campuses are in the sights of lawmakers looking to expand where Georgians can carry guns.

Carry a gun on or within 1,000 feet of any campus now and you could be charged with a felony, spend up to 10 years in prison and pay as much as $10,000 in fines.

But a panel of lawmakers conducting a wholesale review of Georgia's gun laws will soon solicit opinions on removing or altering the ban.

Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, who leads the Senate Firearms Committee, sees nothing wrong with allowing licensed gun owners to visit a college campus while carrying a concealed weapon. Students should be allowed to stow hunting rifles in their cars parked on campus, he said.

Several senators on the committee, both Democrats and Republicans, share that view.

Yet allowing students to carry weapons around campus raises the question of how students, especially those living in dorms, would secure their weapon when they're not carrying them, Mr. Seabaugh said.

That is the duty of any responsible gun owner, said John Wharton, campus leader for the University of Georgia chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.

"Of course, irresponsibility can cause problems," Mr. Wharton said.

UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson isn't taking sides.

"Whatever is on the books, that is what I'll deal with," said Chief Williamson, whose officers made seven arrests for firearms violations under the ban in 2007.

The specter of gun violence on campuses in Virginia and Illinois is never far from debate over guns on campus. Supporters say if students had been carrying guns, such massacres could have been prevented. Opponents fear the presence of guns in a college environment, where indiscretion and alcohol are often plenty.

For Mr. Wharton and others, it's simply a matter of safety. "Police simply cannot react fast enough to stop a mad man from taking lives in mass quantity," he said.

Ross Hevener, a licensed 21-year-old Armstrong Atlantic State University student, said he should be able to carry his gun to protect himself on campus, even if it has its own police force.

"It's not their job to be your bodyguard," said Mr. Hevener.

The Board of Regents supports the gun ban as is and would resist changes, said spokesman John Millsaps.

At the national level, the victory in the U.S. Supreme Court over a handgun ban in Washington, D.C., provided little momentum for efforts to remove campus gun bans. The court's majority was careful to point out that its ruling in June was not intended to cast doubt on firearms prohibitions in schools or government buildings.

The reality is that the gun ban does not keep weapons off campus, according to Mr. Seabaugh.

"There already are firearms on our college campuses," he said. "These are people who have no regard for our law or policy, or are ignorant of what the law is."

Reach Jake Armstrong at (404) 589-8424 or jake.armstrong@morris.com.


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