Gov. Nathan Deal knows it’s wrong. He knows it’s dangerous. But because he was no longer willing to take the political heat, he has now signed into law a bill that allows concealed weapons onto Georgia college campuses.
Now we’ll deal with the consequences, whatever they turn out to be.
Advocates of HB 280 offer two rationales for its enactment, neither of which makes a lick of sense. They also offer two alleged safeguards, and again, neither holds up under even the slightest scrutiny. Let me explain why:
Rationale Number One: “We have a Second Amendment right to carry weapons on a college campus.”
No, you don’t. There is no Second Amendment right to carry a gun on a college campus. None. Anybody who makes that claim demonstrates ignorance of the law and the Constitution they claim to hold sacred. It is not even a matter of debate.
The most conservative, gun-friendly Supreme Court justice in memory, the late Antonin Scalia, a man who later died on a hunting trip, writing for the majority in the most conservative-friendly gun ruling in Supreme Court history, District of Columbia v. Heller, made that as explicit as possible:
“The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”
Pay attention to that wording, because Scalia was a scrupulous wordsmith and he paid attention in its drafting. He goes out of his way to erase any doubt that such restrictions are and remain constitutional, that there is NO constitutional right to carry weapons in such places.
Rationale Number Two: “Allowing concealed weapons on campus will make people safer.”
No. It won’t.
“I just think back to when I was in college and you know, the amount of alcohol that flows there, I just don’t see that there is an upside to this,” Atlanta Police Chief Erika Sheilds told Denis O’Hayer of NPR. “I just think this really has the potential to really not be good.”
“This is a mistake,” says Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress, whose mission includes protecting the 11,000 students at Valdosta State University. “It defies all of the logic and the data.”
We all know the “reasoning:” If a bad guy comes on a college campus, a “good guy” will be there with a concealed weapon to take care of the situation.¹ And that kind of thing does happen. According to nationwide FBI data, in 2015 there were 268 cases of justifiable homicide with a firearm, defined as “the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.”
I have no sympathy for those dead criminals. I’m fine with all that. I’m a lot less fine with the more than 140 children killed annually in gun negligence and accidents, or with the 9,616 people who were murdered with guns in 2015, or the more than 20,000 annual suicides with firearms. Tote up both sides of the ledger and tell me how it balances out.
Furthermore, in a mass shooting incident on a college campus, law-enforcement officers do not want to worry which gun-toting civilian on the scene is the perpetrator and which is some hapless amateur trying to play John Wayne.
“My chief concern is I’m going to have cops shooting the wrong people,” as Childress put it in a Valdosta press conference.
“They’re (police officers) all going to converge on the university campus. Now, you have a bunch of police officers with guns and what will they be faced with? Untrained, unprepared students who have nothing to do with the situation,” Childress explained. “I love these officers and it’s hard enough on them already. I’m telling you, if this bill passes, it’s going to turn into the OK Corral.”
Safeguard Number One: “The new law only applies to those with a Georgia concealed weapon permit, and they know what they’re doing.”
Under Georgia law, you don’t need any sort of firearms training to obtain a weapons permit. You don’t have to demonstrate knowledge of even the most basic rudiments of gun safety. You don’t need to know how to shoot, you don’t need to know how to store a weapon safely, and you surely don’t need training in how to confront an armed opponent without endangering innocent lives. In other words, this supposed reassurance is almost meaningless.
In addition, if a law enforcement officer spots someone carrying a concealed weapon on campus or anywhere else, Georgia law explicitly forbids the officer from stopping that person and demanding to see a concealed weapons permit. That makes the requirement almost unenforceable. Georgia law-enforcement protested loudly against that provision when it was proposed, for obvious reasons. Their complaints failed. A bill was introduced in the Legislature this year to strike that provision; it went nowhere.
Safeguard Number Two: “The new law continues to ban weapons at college sporting events, student housing, faculty offices and disciplinary hearings.”
It is impossible to take such restrictions seriously because the legislation itself does not do so.
Under the law, the punishment imposed on a permit holder who brings a concealed weapon into a gun-restricted area of campus is a whopping $25 fine, and I don’t know any way to interpret that other than as a sign of basic disrespect, a message to authorities that the violation is not to be taken seriously or seriously enforced.
If you park your car in the wrong place on campus, or if you walk across a street at the wrong place, you will pay a much bigger fine than if you illegally carry a concealed, loaded weapon into a restricted zone. There is no deterrent effect whatsoever in a $25 fine; it is instead a deterrence to enforcement and prosecution. That’s not by accident; that is by design of those who drafted the bill.
And this won’t be the end of it. Georgia already has one of the weakest set of gun laws in the country, but the gun lobby will always needs a new target, a new way to convince its supporters that they are being subject to cruel governmental persecution. In recent years it has convinced its members that they suffer great damage to their God-given liberty when they can’t take a loaded weapon into a bar, a church, a park and now a college campus. Next year it will be something else.
In fact, gun groups have made it clear that their ultimate goal is the grossly misnamed “constitutional carry,” allowing everybody to carry weapons openly with no background check or permit required. If that sounds like a ridiculous goal, 10 years ago it sounded ridiculous that we would allow guns on campus.
¹ The religious-like fervor of that belief can be stunning. For example, after Dylann Roof murdered eight people in a South Carolina church, including its pastor, an NRA national board member blamed the pastor for the deaths. “Eight of his church who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are now dead,” wrote Charles Cotton. “Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”
If that rhetoric sounds crazy, it is. But it is also what has given us HB 280.
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