Proposed Legislation for Reducing Gun Restrictions–What it means for Athens

The trigger is pulled and the gun jerks back. The shell flies out. The bullet travels down the range almost too fast to be seen. The only evidence of the bullet’s presence, a Bang! The sound echoes off the cement walls and a single bullet hole appears straight through the target—an outline of a human profile.

Daniel Grass, a senior at the University of Georgia, shows off his target image. Ten bullet holes gape in the paper target—all through the head.

Grass is confident in his shooting ability and plans to purchase a gun when he has enough money. He said he would not feel any more or less safe carrying a gun with him on campus—but that is exactly what he would be able to do if the proposed legislation House Bill 512 were to pass through the senate.

House Bill 512, which passed through the Georgia House in a 117-56 vote this month, is currently being reviewed by the Senate. HB 512, also known as the Safe Carry Protection Act, amends current legislation to lift restrictions on where guns can be carried. If passed this bill would allow concealed weapons on college campuses—as well as in places of worship, bars and unsecured government buildings.

Athens House Representatives were split on their vote for HB 512. Democratic Representative Spencer Frye voted against the bill while Republican Representative Regina Quick voted in favor. As reflected by the conflicting views of the two representatives, the Athens community has a variety of opinions on HB 512.

HB 512 would affect public institutions differently than private ones. Places of worship and bars, because they are private property rights, would still be allowed to decide whether or not to allow weapons in their establishment. Public universities, however, are considered government institutions and would be required to permit guns on certain areas of their campus.

The University of Georgia being a public institution would be directly impact by the passing of the Safe Carry Protection Act.

University Police Chief Jimmy Williamson opposes HB 512, particularly legislation that would allow for guns to be carried on college campuses. “We like where the current law is,” said Williamson. “I have concerns [about HB512] from a safety standpoint.”

Williamson said that he believed the law would cause a number of issues and would make the job of police officers more difficult. He noted his concern about the influence guns would have on instances of intimidation or bullying on campus. Williamson said the presence of more guns in innocent people’s hands would complicate the job of police officers when in came to responding to active shooters. “It would be hard for the police responding to know who the good guy and who the bad guy is,” said Williamson.

On the other side of the issue Bobby Tribble an employee at Franklin Gun Shop in Athens, said

“If you are a law abiding person you can carry a gun anywhere you want to and as long as you don’t show off with it and do something illegal or unless you have to use the gun nobody is going to know you have it anyway.”

Tribble said he did not believe that passing or removing restrictions on where gun owners could carry weapons would change the number of people carrying concealed weapons in these areas. “Only law abiding people obey laws so passing more laws is not going to have any effect.”

The University Union hosted a debate on gun control open to students, faculty and athens locals. Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owner Association and  Kathryn Grant of the non-profit organization Gun Free Kids, both presented their views on the issue guns on campus.

Grant, who is part of the Keep Guns Off Campus Resolutions, said in opposition to HB 512, “The assertion that arming students and teachers in keeping the campus community safe lies at the heart of this debate, but is a rationale seen by many as fundamentally flawed.” Grant further encouraged those making decisions on this bill to listen to experts on the issue that have said putting guns on campus will not make it a safer environment.

Feldman a prominent lobbyist for gun rights refuted Grant. Feldman said that in order to discuss the issue of gun control people must get away form the emotions in the issue.

“[If] I am carrying that gun legally, am I somehow, when I cross over onto school property, going to become a vicious killer? I think not,” said Feldman. The concern is not where guns can be carried. The important issue is who is carrying a gun.

Feldman said, removing gun restrictions would not change the number of dangerous people who could carry a gun on campus—rather it would increase the number of law-abiding citizens who would have a gun and ability to defend themselves.

But do students or faculty feel they would be safer if guns were allowed on campus? University Georgia System Chancellor Hank Huckaby does not think so.

“In my position I believe strongly that allowing our students to carry weapons on our campuses will not increase their personal safety but instead reduce it,” said Huckaby, in a statement before the Georgia legislative committee. Huckaby is supported by the 31 other University System of Georgia’s presidents in his opposition of HB 512.

Lucas Smith a freshman at the University of Georgia said he is against HB 512. “There are merits to both arguments, but I would personally want to see no guns on campus,” said Smith. While Smith said he supports the second amendment, he feels that he pays money to attend the University and should have a say in how safe he feels on campus.

Back at the shooting range, Grass fired over 17 rounds through his target practicing his precision and aim. “I agree with allowing guns in more places,” said Grass. “I think the biggest misconception about gun control is that, the more regulation you put on gun is going to keep them out of the wrong hands.”

Grass believes that current legislation restricting gun carrying on campus is not going to stop someone who wants to bring a gun on campus from doing so. By allowing guns on campus Grass said he did not feel the number of students carrying guns would drastically increase.

“There might be a small percent of student who carry [guns] and they are going to be the responsible ones who wouldn’t want to shot me anyways. The only thing that [allowing guns on campus] could do it maybe prevent a mass shooting or something,” said Grass.

While the Safe Carry Protection Act remains under review in the Georgia Senate, the Athens and University community can contact Athens’ State Senator Bill Cowsert to voice their opinion on House Bill 512.   

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