Guns on campus at Georgia Southern University are not a good idea, said GSU President Dr. Brooks Keel. And University Police Chief Mike Russell agrees that if a bill passed Wednesday by Georgia senators becomes law, it's likely the university would act on a provision in that bill that allows individual colleges and universities to ban guns on their own.
The Georgia Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would allow licensed gun owners to bring firearms on college campuses, as well as into churches and bars. The bill, if it becomes law, also would allow people to take licensed, registered weapons with them when they drop off or pick up others at airports in Georgia.
But, if passed into law, it's highly unlikely GSU would allow guns on campus, Keel said.
“The bill allows college campuses to make their own rules and there will be no change here at Georgia Southern," he said. "No guns will be allowed on campus. We are very concerned about this bill and the implications it could have for the safety of our campus environment.”
All 35 presidents at Georgia’s public colleges and universities are unanimously opposed to allowing guns on campus, he said.
Russell said the current law which bans firearms on or near campuses is the safer route.
"We support the current Georgia law which prohibits guns on campus," he said. "We feel it protects our faculty and staff, students and visitors."
He said he feels sure since the bill includes a provision where universities and colleges can enact their own ruling, GSU will take action to do so if the bill becomes law.
However, Keel also said while universities can have a rule against guns on campus, a law carries a lot more weight. He said he fears a law could ignite a string of litigation against the university to allow guns on campus. “I think this is a really bad idea."
But, not even laws keep some people from doing what they want, Russell said. People can still bring guns on campus, but with a law or local ordinance, offenders can be prosecuted. "If somebody s going to break the law, they're going to break the law," he said. But penalties and fines deter most from breaking laws, he added.
Allowing guns on campus would be dangerous, Keel said, "I respect and I am all for our Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms. But to allow guns on a college campus would have a chilling effect on everyone. Students, faculty, staff. Everyone.”
Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, who sponsored S.B. 308 disagrees. He said the bill clarifies the firearms carry law for the state’s 300,000 gun owners with permits to carry weapons and leaves the decision up to private property owners whether to exclude people from carrying guns on their property. It passed 41-12 after nearly two hours of debate. The airport measure passed 43-10.
"Georgia’s laws need to be simple to read and easy to understand,” he said after the vote. “This legislation brings common sense and clarity.”
Seabaugh pointed out that the proposal only applies to licensed Georgia gun owners, who he said are “law-abiding citizens” and are not responsible for the types of crimes critics fear will accompany the bill.
Under the measure, it would still be a crime for a gun owner to bring a weapon to a church or bar if the property owner had not granted permission.
The Board of Regents has expressed opposition to the legislation.
Several Democratic senators blasted the bill, which they said will put Georgians at risk.
“It’s idiotic to allow firearms in churches (and) in bars where inebriated people get into arguments,” said Sen. Vincent Fort, D- Atlanta. “Extremism dominated the floor of the state Senate today.”
State Sen. Nan Orrock, another Atlanta Democrat who attempted unsuccessfully to amend the bill, said the proposal will leave the public in the dark and in danger.
“While the Second Amendment is part of the Constitution, we have to look at the rampant loss of life from guns,” she said. “A sense of security is sacrificed by this bill.”
The bill also transfers issuing of licenses from the state’s 159 county probate judges to the Secretary of State’s Office. It will now go up before the House for consideration.
James Healy contributed to this article.
The Associated Press contributed to this article
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.