By LAUREN MCDONALD firstname.lastname@example.org
The "campus carry" bill, which would allow concealed firearms to be brought onto Georgia's public college campuses, was kept alive until the final hours of the 40-day state legislative session.
As of press time Thursday, the bill was under consideration in a conference committee.
House Bill 280 would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms on public college and university campuses. The bill details exempted spaces, such as dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses, athletic facilities and on-campus child care centers. Areas on some college campuses where high school students attend class would also be exempt.
"I'm personally not very comfortable with [the bill]," said Caleigh Eberhardt, a freshman at College of Coastal Georgia. "We have campus security, and I understand that they're not always going to be right there to defend students. But as far as I've heard, this campus is pretty safe."
Sentiments were mixed among students on CCGA's campus regarding the campus carry bill.
"I'm generally fine with it," said junior CCGA student Christian Salcedo. "I would probably conceal carry myself, because under most cases, if you're a law-abiding citizen then it's perfectly fine. And the purpose of conceal carry is to ensure safety for yourself and potentially for those around you."
Georgia law requires anyone seeking a state permit to carry a concealed gun to be at least 21 years old, to be fingerprinted and to pass a background check.
This is the fifth consecutive year the state legislature has considered this sort of measure. A similar bill made it to Gov. Deal last year, sparking protests on college campuses across the state. Deal vetoed the bill, due to his concerns that it was too broad and that campuses have traditionally been gun-free to promote education.
The state legislature reintroduced a campus carry bill this year, sponsored by Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton. After passing in the House earlier this month, the Senate passed the bill on Tuesday and sent it back to the House for review. The House disagreed with the Senate's version and sent it into final negotiations Thursday in a conference committee.
Supporters of the bill have said allowing guns on campus would potentially stop criminals who may bring weapons to campus. Critics say it would create an unsafe environment at college and universities.
"If there's a criminal that ever decides to come and bring a gun in here, nothing's going to stop them," Salcedo said. "You can't really prevent that, it's just something you can react to."
Salcedo, who recently turned 21, owns a shotgun and said he would likely bring his gun to campus if such a measure were passed.
"But unlike most people, I've actually gone through training," he said. "I've been certified by the NRA."
He once held a job at a shooting center in Statesboro, and he said he was required to undergo training to hold that position. He said he feels additional training should be required for students wishing to bring guns onto college campuses.
"I think it would be a necessary precaution, because most people are just inexperienced," he said.
Samantha Wandless, a junior at CCGA, said she's concerned legalized concealed weapons could lead to increased violence on campus.
"I think professors should be able to, and the staff should be able to carry," she said. "But not the students."