Universities must remain gun-free

In the Georgia General Assembly, a bill was recently introduced that would make university campuses less safe, exacerbate existing risks related to alcohol abuse and sexual assault and undermine the educational mission of our state’s institutions of higher learning. We ask the Emory community to unite and oppose this bill and its potentially disastrous outcomes.

The bill in question, HB 859,[i] represents a direct threat to the safety of students. Supported by the senior Republican leadership in the legislature, HB 859 is the third attempt in three years by the gun lobby to extend the principle of campus-carry to colleges and universities in Georgia. The bill would allow licensed gun owners to carry firearms onto university campuses. The previous two efforts, in 2014 and 2015, died in committee before reaching the floor due to quiet pressure by the state Board of Regents.

However, the current bill has a better chance of passing because it contains exceptions the previous versions lacked. As currently written, it applies only to public universities and colleges, and it does not prevent schools from restricting the carrying of firearms into dorms, Greek life housing and sports facilities. But it would allow students to carry handguns and even semi-automatic weapons into classrooms and auditoriums. And of course, the exceptions in the current bill could be readily dropped in the course of the bill’s movement through the legislature. Similar last-minute, stealthy maneuvers succeeded with several provisions of the “carry anywhere” bill in 2014. It is perfectly possible that HB 859 would be amended as to apply to private as well as public institutions and to Greek life, residence halls and football stadiums.

This bill is extremely dangerous. If passed, it would increase the risk of injury, sexual assault and death for students. Although its sponsors (and the gun lobbyists backing them) argue that they are trying to enhance the safety of students, the facts point in exactly the opposite direction. Campus crime rates increased in Utah and Colorado after “campus carry” bills passed. In particular, the number of rapes rose sharply in both states — nearly 50 percent in Utah in the year after the legislation passed.[ii] Likewise, guns do not make people safer in workplaces and homes. Research from North Carolina showed that the risk of a homicide in workplaces where firearms are allowed is five to seven times greater than in workplaces where they are banned.[iii] Guns kept at home are even more dangerous: guns in the home are 22 times more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide or accident than in self-defense.[iv] By enacting campus carry laws, lawmakers are increasing the potential for violence on campus.

HB 859’s threat to student safety is increased by the fact that Georgia’s gun sales laws are notoriously lax. In Georgia, people under the age of 18 can legally buy guns from unlicensed gun dealers and, at age 18 or older, from licensed gun dealers. A gun purchase from a licensed dealer requires a background check but not safety training on safe handling and safe use of firearms. Georgia law does not even allow the registration of gun serial numbers. Already, Georgia is a major source of illegally trafficked guns.[v] In fact, gun trafficking already occurs near campus. Recently, an Emory professor observed a man selling guns out of the trunk of his car at an apartment complex near the Emory campus, where a large number of Emory students live.

Enactment of this law would mean that young people who lack training in the safe handling of weapons will be allowed to bring untraceable rifles and even assault weapons into a classroom or auditorium.

Increasing the number of firearms on campus would be dangerous even if students did not misuse alcohol and drugs. But students face stresses of many kinds and often engage in risky, reckless or impulsive behavior. We can predict that the number of homicides, suicides and accidental deaths will increase. Already, over 1,800 college students die each year from unintentional alcohol-related injuries, including car crashes. Over half a million are injured. Over three million acknowledge sometimes driving under the influence of alcohol. Almost a third abuse alcohol.[vi] How can it make sense to add guns to the mix?

Sometimes, we hear the argument, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This argument simply does not hold up. Evidence shows that in encounters with armed assailants, innocent people using weapons in self-defense are just as likely to die as those who are unarmed.[vii] All studies agree that the presence of more firearms in an environment increases rather than decreases the risk of fatal shootings. Therefore, the argument that arming more students with firearms will make them safer is bogus. In all our years at Emory, not one of us has ever heard a student, staff member or administrator call for the carrying of guns onto campus. Where is the demand for this law coming from? From universities? Or the gun lobby backed by the gun manufacturers?

Beyond making students less safe, a “campus carry” law would profoundly undermine the educational process. Guns on campus would intimidate. They would make faculty and students wonder whether it’s safe to discuss controversial issues in a civil, respectful manner. They would stifle the kinds of constructive arguments that are essential to education. They will create a threatening environment for everyone, as people would carry guns into administrative offices, counseling centers, libraries and other campus facilities.

A sweeping “campus carry” bill passed in Texas in 2015.[viii] It prevents universities from banning concealed handguns on campus. It will come into force in August 2016, so its effect is not yet clear. Both faculty and students spoke out forcefully against the bill, including the University of Texas System Chancellor and former Navy Seal in charge of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Admiral William McRaven. “I’ve spent my whole life around guns,” Admiral McRaven said. “I grew up in Texas hunting. I spent 37 years in the military. I like guns, but I just don’t think having them on campus is the right place.”[ix] But the Texas Legislature was guided by ideology, not reason, and passed the bill.

In 2014, Georgia passed a “carry everywhere” law. It allows private universities such as Emory to prohibit carrying weapons onto their premises. Emory currently does not allow firearms on campus. But a “campus carry” bill that applied to private institutions would deny it that right.

Legislation such as “campus carry” and the 2014 “carry everywhere” law that are currently enforced have not been tested in the courts. They may well not pass constitutional muster. Before the issues work their way through the courts, however, it is more than likely that people will die unnecessarily at the hand of irresponsible and inappropriate use of firearms. We need to act now to prevent the proliferation of firearms on Georgia campuses.

Laws regulating firearms need to be guided by common sense. Denying universities the right to restrict firearms on campus violates the fundamental notion of the university as a safe place for teaching and learning.

Kirsten Widner, PhD Student, Political Science Department

Professor Frank Vandall, Emory Law School

Professor Thomas F. Remington, Political Science Department


  1. Avatar
    Cole Daniel 3 years ago

    This bill is a fair compromise. HB 859, first of all, refers only to those who have a Georgia Weapons Carry Permit. Therefore, we are talking about students who are at least 21 years of age and who have passed background checks. In addition permit holders are fingerprinted during their initial application. Finally, HB 859 respects the independence of private universities while also keeping firearms out of places such as housing, fraternities, sororities, and sports facilities. As an honors student I strongly support HB 859.

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      Anonymous 3 years ago

      “only refers to concealed handguns, not semi-automatic weapons…”
      The majority of handguns are semi-automatic weapons. Especially those typically carried concealed, given the difficulty of concealing a revolver.

      1. Avatar
        Cole Daniel 3 years ago

        The article, as it is written, is trying to imply (falsely) rifles would be allowed. The point is HB 859 would only allow concealed pistols, not rifles. Furthermore, the bill only applies to those with a Georgia Weapons Carry Permit, and who are therefore 21 years of age, found by their local Probate Court to have passed various background checks.

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    A mostly confused citizen 3 years ago

    If Utah and Colorado are evidence that guns on campus increase crime and rape, how do you explain Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, and Wisconsin?

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    DrSixShooter 3 years ago

    I found this essay to be pretty slipshod, and in places intellectually dishonest. As a specific example:

    “In Georgia, people under the age of 18 can legally buy guns from unlicensed gun dealers and, at age 18 or older, from licensed gun dealers.”

    I find this specific part of the article to be intellectually dishonest because it (I think deliberately) conflates long guns and handguns to give the impression that minors can legally purchase handguns (used in the overwhelming majority of gun crimes) and handgun ammunition when that is not at all the case. Georgia and federal law place restrictions on the possession and purchasing of both long guns and handguns, with the latter being more restrictive since they are disproportionately used in violent crime.

    Minors can purchase a *long gun* (rifle, shotgun) from *private individuals*, but not a *handgun* (pistol, revolver): Georgia law (O.C.G.A. § 16-11-101.1) clearly prohibits “furnishing pistol or revolver to person under the age of 18 years”, which includes sales from both licensed dealers and private individuals. Georgia does allow for limited possession of a hand gun by minors under O.C.G.A. § 16-11-132, e.g., for hunting or participating in a shooting sports event, in a limited enumerated list. Federal law 18 USC § 922(x) goes further than Georgia by prohibiting juveniles from purchasing handgun ammunition (I don’t think GA has this restriction, but federal applies). Federal law also prohibits those younger than 21 from purchasing handguns from a licensed dealer, although they can purchase from a private individual.

    I also find this essay lacking in presenting Georgia firearms law as being uniquely lax, whereas Georgia law is actually substantially similar to the laws of neighboring states (and most states in general). Few states have any safety training requirement before purchasing a firearm (none of Georgia’s neighbors do); few states require registration or tracking of firearm serial numbers (again, none of Georgia’s neighbors do).

    “In fact, gun trafficking already occurs near campus. Recently, an Emory professor observed a man selling guns out of the trunk of his car at an apartment complex near the Emory campus, where a large number of Emory students live.”

    [citation needed] You attempted to cite elsewhere (although none of the links work on my web browsers), but you forgot to cite here. Is there actually any evidence that the alleged “gun trafficking” was an illegal sale? Or was this simply the legal sale of private property from one individual to another?

    “In all our years at Emory, not one of us has ever heard a student, staff member or administrator call for the carrying of guns onto campus.”

    I would suggest that is a failure on your part to listen. When I was a grad student, I supported the previous efforts for campus carry in Georgia. I still do. As written, this bill would mostly enable the school’s population that lives off campus to carry a firearm; I think it’s better that they carry it than to leave it in a car where it can be stolen.

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      Cole Daniel 3 years ago

      As a honors student I find the current edition of HB 859 is an excellent compromise over previous editions. It is also important to remember the bill is only considering the public college and university system. Emory is private and would have the privilege to say “no.”

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        Chili Dogg 3 years ago

        You mean the “right” to say “no”.

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          Cole Daniel 3 years ago

          No, I said privilege.

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    Chili Dogg 3 years ago

    The authors write “In particular, the number of rapes rose sharply in both states — nearly 50 percent in Utah in the year after the legislation passed.” What are the numbers? Do they mean the number of *reported* rapes? Perhaps there was a push to have people report rapes and that affected the numbers. What is the evidence that the change in the gun law had anything to do with the increase in reported rapes? Just because A follows B does not mean that A caused B. That’s basic logic.

    As for the claim that “Guns kept at home are even more dangerous: guns in the home are 22 times more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide or accident than in self-defense.”, I’m surprised that two Emory professors and a Ph.D. student are promoting bogus claims such as this one, which has been refuted. Then again, Emory did give us Dr. Bellesiles, who did much the same thing when writing about guns in the US and got the boot.

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    Teddy Edwards 3 years ago

    I speak for the nationwide movement to permit guns for self-defense on university campuses.

    We see the rise of radical Islam, the complete failure of gun control laws to stop school shootings. We see gun control regulations vastly increase the number of deaths as victims are left defenseless during shootings. We see political correctness being served as the scientific research is ignored.

    Gun restrictions left hundreds defenseless in Paris, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, Aurora and elsewhere. This has led to a call for expanded personal freedoms, especially fundamental ones like those of the Second Amendment . We see how deadly the Democratic Party policies about immigration, refugee and sanctuary cities have been and how its puzzling foreign policies have encouraged terrorism.

    And as progressivism’s gun control orthodoxy has been a deadly failure, their power to deny these basic rights to Americans is slowly wearing away. Some months ao, Liberty University’s president advised all students there to get concealed carry permits and announced courses to assist them.

    With well-justified fear, Americans look to expand their liberty. Numerous court rulings against Democrats for overstepping their authority are no less important to human beings than when Emory University relies on a decades-old decision to ban guns on campus.

    Imagine the reduction in crime if Emory University’s gun ban was lifted. An assailant’s awareness that a potential victim might have a gun would have immediate impact.


    Political correctness keeps Emory University from adjusting to the new reality of deadly danger happening all around it. And it considers it’s customers — the students — so child-like that it dare not allow them this freedom.

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    Donna 3 years ago

    Guns were never a problem in schools before, there have been guns in this country since the beginning. It is the culture that is changing, not guns. How about demanding Hollywierd stop making so many violent movies? How about not letting our children become so detached to violent because they are watching extremely violent video games? No, let’s protect these big corporations liable, let’s take rights away from the people. Liberals will do anything to protect Hollywierd for some reason.

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    Dee 3 years ago

    If alcohol is a problem on campus, if students are dying because of driving under the influence, shouldn’t there be laws against alcohol on campus, on drunk or impaired driving? If students are getting raped on campus it should be against the law to rape, on campus, off campus.

    Ohh wait some people don’t follow the law, don’t respect the law. Concealed Carry Permit holders go to extra lengths to follow and respect the law, have a clean record to pass the background check to get a permit.

    Police , on a per capita basis ( equal numbers of police and private citizens actually involved in shootings straight up apples to apples comparison ) shoot and kill innocent by-standers 11 times as often as civilian gun owners .. private citizens justifiably and legally shoot twice as many criminals as police each year and when it comes to sexual assault, sexual assault when attempted is completed 32% of the time against unarmed women but only completed 3% of the time against an armed woman.

    here is an article complied by criminologists reviewing many studies all linked to if you care to read them for yourself with the above statistics as well as many more. http://actionamerica.org/guns/guns1.shtml and before you throw up your hands and holler bias, many of the individuals that did the studies had solid records of being for gun control when they started studying the numbers and that to is laid out in the article, The Writers of the article, the people who did the studies are criminologists, they study crime and what causes it and what stops it for a living, they are scholars. They gather actual facts before they decide a position, they look at many studies , not just one. Armed civilians stop crimes, reduce crime rates, and save lives. the overall statistics show that concealed carry permit holders are over all 13 times less likely to commit any crime, and from the above reference studies many time safer than police. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concealed_carry_in_the_United_States

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