A Democratic Party forum brought news of a shooting and archery complex moving toward construction at Georgia Southern University, a lawyer’s history of the Second Amendment and a minister’s impassioned plea to resist a pro-gun culture.
Dr. Vince Miller, the associate vice president for student affairs at Georgia Southern, was the first of three speakers for Saturday’s “Guns and Politics” forum. Statesboro attorney Michael Classens and the Rev. Jane Page, the pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro, also spoke at the event hosted by the Bulloch County Democratic Party at Statesboro Regional Library.
Miller gave an update on development of the GSU Shooting Sports Education Center. Under discussion for the past two years as a joint project of the university and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the $7 million facility will be part of the Georgia Southern campus. It will include an indoor firearms range and indoor and outdoor archery ranges.
People in the audience asked Miller how students would bring guns to the center under existing law. Georgia’s current ban on firearms on college campuses makes exceptions for education, training and competition, which would allow firearms at the center itself.
“So no, you cannot say you’re going to be at the Shooting Sports Education Center and be halfway across campus at the Student Union carrying your gun in your hand,” Miller said. “That’s not allowable. It is against the law, and as a university we support the current law and we support no change in that law.”
Saturday’s forum took place as a bill is pending final passage in the Georgia Legislature that would allow students ages 21 and older with weapons-carry licenses to take their guns into public college and university classrooms. House Bill 512, which includes other changes to the gun-carry law, passed the House earlier this month, but amendments are being considered in the Senate, with the 2013 session scheduled to end Thursday.
Planners of the GSU facility, as Miller explained, have envisioned students entering the center from cars in its parking lots. Whether gun storage will be provided at the center for students who live in campus residence halls – where guns would still be generally prohibited even under House Bill 512 – is under discussion, he said.
That was as close as Miller came to the politics of gun rights. Otherwise, the topic of the forum attended by 24 people in addition to the speakers and county Democratic Party chairman Bill Herring.
The Second Amendment
Classens traced the origins of gun rights in America.
“The right to bear arms is undeniably present in our laws,” he said. “There’s no question about it. There are regulations that say how and when, under what circumstances. There is no question there is a right. The debate is, where does it come from.”
The Second Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution in 1791, is the most often cited source. He credited the amendment itself to the founders’ mistrust of standing armies. They sought instead to provide for the national defense by creating people’s militias, citizen soldiers armed with their own guns. Classens also explained that the amendment was revised several times before it was adopted. Changes were made to the clause referring to militias and in the punctuation, especially commas.
The final version states: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
But Classens said the right actually has origins in a pre-existing, common-law right to self-defense. Courts, he said, long looked to self-defense as the main basis for protecting the right of gun ownership, particularly against intrusions by states. The Supreme Court, in its 2010 ruling in the McDonald v. Chicago case, at last stated that the Second Amendment, through the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, also limits the authority of states and local governments, according to Classens.
However, people who claim that the Second Amendment grants a right to armed resistance against the government abuse the amendment, he asserted. Classens observed that the Constitution also addresses that behavior – as treason.
“The right is not unrestricted. Otherwise, everybody would be able to have a gun, and that’s not the case, and thank God,” Classens said. “You can do things that forfeit your rights, including the right to bear firearms. You can be convicted of a felony. You can commit an act of treason. You can abuse your spouse or significant other … and then you’ll lose your right.”
The forum’s clearest advocate for gun control, Page, assailed what she called “Gundamentalism,” a term coined by the Rev. Rachel Smith, founder of the God Not Guns Initiative.
Like Smith, Page asserts that the National Rifle Association and the claim that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” have drowned out religious teachings such as “Thou shalt not kill” and “Love thy neighbor.”
Each year, about 30,000 Americans are victims of gun-related deaths, Page noted. Citing other statistics, she said that the number of children and teenagers killed by guns since 1979 is more than 2½ times the number of American military personnel killed in either the Vietnam or Korean wars and 22 times the number killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
She referred to stories that members of her church told her about gun violence in their families and held up a photo of Dr. Bryan Deever, a friend of hers shot and killed by his wife, who then committed suicide.
“I don’t like guns. … If it were up to me, we’d outlaw them all. But I know that’s not going to happen,” Page said. “So I can at least try to support the things that have a chance, like outlawing and buying back the AR-15 and other war weapons of mass destruction. This did work in Australia.”
She also asked citizens to call state legislators and voice opposition to legislation loosening restrictions on where guns can be carried. She noted that changes introduced this week could limit or eliminate the provisions of House Bill 512 that would have allowed guns in churches and bars, but the part referring to college campuses remains in place.
A man in the audience, who declined to be identified, spoke objecting to Page’s remarks.
“I am an NRA member. I do own an AR-15,” he said. “I do look forward to the new gun range because I don’t use my AR-15 to kill things. I use it to target shoot and enjoy, so killing isn’t the sole purpose of guns.”