Georgia’s new law allowing concealed handguns to be carried on college campuses has been in effect for a little over two months now, but has had little to no impact on the population at Georgia College according to the school’s Chief of Public Safety Don Challis.
House Bill 280 was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal May 4 and went into effect July 1. Leading up to and ever since that date the University System of Georgia has given directives to its member institutions on how the law is to be enforced and encouraged them to educate students, faculty, and staff on how the law has changed. Challis and other GC officials held information sessions over the summer mainly for faculty and staff but began holding a few more since the beginning of the fall semester for students. The Union-Recorder attended Tuesday morning’s session in GC’s Donahoo Lounge located in the Maxwell Student Union. While foot traffic was at its daily high upstairs as the clock neared lunchtime, only one student and a handful of public safety officers attended the campus carry info session.
“First off this is not my law,” Challis said leading off the session. “I didn’t push it, but we get to carry it out. So my politics aside I'm going to say this is not my law, but it’s our job to enforce it. We have a lot of guidance that comes from the Board [of Regents] office to make sure that the policy is implemented consistently system-wide.”
He began by explaining how the law changed and where those with permits are allowed to carry as well as are barred from carrying on the Georgia College campus. Exclusions include NCAA athletic event spaces or venues (intramural sporting events are not excluded), on-campus housing, administrative offices, and classrooms where dual enrollment students are enrolled. Challis ran through a couple of hypothetical scenarios and explained what the process would be if someone called about a person they believe is wrongfully carrying. A few questions asked of the caller might be: what type of weapon is it, how is it being displayed, what’s the person doing, and does this person have a history of reckless or questionable behavior? The Chief stated that if the carrier has a pistol in a holster that is covered up and they are in a classroom or area not excluded the response to such a call might be “thanks for calling but at this point there appears to be no violation of law or policy.”
“The faculty were not overly impressed with that answer — at least some of them weren’t,” Challis said. “Most of them were okay with that.”
He also explained what might happen if a professor calls about a student wrongfully carrying in a classroom with a dual enrollment student using “Don” as the name of the weapon carrier.
“By policy you’re supposed to call us and we’ll come check it out,” he said. “Practice is a bit different. Depending on your relationship with Don — I guess the bigger question is how much of an issue do you want to make out of having the police come in now and talk to Don in front of your class or do you just want to talk to Don yourself after class? Short of any other problems that’s the guidance we’re given. The policy says call the police. What you do actually is up to you, but if you have any concern at all call us. Based on what you tell the dispatcher or supervisor we’ll determine the appropriate response.”
Anyone caught carrying in an excluded area of campus could be cited for a misdemeanor or be in breach of the university’s code of conduct. The burden falls on the gun carrier to visit the Registrar’s Office and see if there are any dually enrolled students in any of their classes.
“I’ve checked with the dean of students, I’ve checked with my VP, I’ve checked with HR, and our own records and we’ve had zero calls about this,” said Challis. “Not a one and that’s fairly consistent with what the state has seen… This has been a non-story for us, which I’m glad is the case. We’ve had nobody come forward and nobody protest. I think some schools might have that, but we just don’t have that here. We have a liberal arts population.”
The chief added that some of the marketing used to push the campus carry bill through is not entirely accurate. While there may be more instances of active shooters on college campuses since 1960, the rate is still consistent given the rising student population. Challis says students’ (less than 20) opinions who have attended the information sessions since classes started back have been across the entire spectrum of for and against the new law.
“We have different levels of concern,” he said. “We had students who just wanted to come and find out what the law actually means for them. We had a student last week who thought the law was too restrictive. It was interesting because we had an employee here who was worried about the presence of guns period and we had a student who was worried people were worried about the presence of weapons being a problem.”
Ruby Zimmerman, a GC sophomore from Marietta and the only student present at Tuesday morning’s session, said she followed the bill from its creation to its passing.
“I'm definitely intimidated by it,” she said. “I’m not a gun owner and no one in my family owns guns so I haven’t really been brought up in the gun culture. So knowing that guns are now allowed on a college campus it just made me nervous that where I'm getting my higher education that there could be potential for something catastrophic to happen. I’ve seen what has come out of school shootings and just adding guns to campus could make things worse. I had read the bill and was confused by some of the restrictions — where it was prohibited and where it wasn’t. Coming here I definitely think he made things more clear about where the guns could be and where they are not allowed so that definitely clears things up for me.”