By LAUREN MCDONALD firstname.lastname@example.org
College of Coastal Georgia students will return this fall to a campus on which license-holders can legally carry concealed handguns.
House Bill 280, known as the "campus carry" legislation, took effect July 1 and now allows anyone who is properly licensed in Georgia to carry a concealed handgun on public college and university property.
To ensure the local college community is educated about the change, CCGA is hosting several information sessions as the fall semester approaches, said Bryan Sipe, chief of campus police.
"We're trying to meet with folks, because when you talk with people, people have different concerns," Sipe said. "And we wanted to alleviate some of that anxiety and explain the legislation."
State law already allowed license-holders to keep weapons in vehicles. But on July 1, HB 280 made it legal for them to carry concealed handguns on campus, while providing for numerous spaces where weapons are not allowed.
Existing exceptions include athletic sporting event venues, students housing facilities and preschool or childcare facilities.
Rooms and other spaces used for classes in which high school students are enrolled are also off-limits. This will include space used for dual enrollment classes and the Move On When Ready program.
License-holders have the responsibility of learning whether high school students are enrolled in a class. They will need to visit the institution's registrar's office to verify this information, Sipe said.
Guns are also not allowed in faculty, staff and administrative offices or in rooms being used for disciplinary proceedings of any kind.
The University System of Georgia's Office of Legal Affairs provided guidelines to campuses within the system on how to implement the law.
"We all share the same goal of ensuring a safe campus environment," wrote Steve Wrigley, USG chancellor, in a message sent May 24. "We should work together to implement the law as written and thoughtfully address any complications that may arise."
The USG instructed college and university personnel to review campus conduct and weapons policies, to ensure that school rules comply with the law change.
"While House Bill 280 provides for specific exceptions where handguns may not go, it does not give individual institutions discretion to bar or further limit handguns on their campuses," Wrigley said. "Institutions therefore may not place additional restrictions or prohibitions on the carrying of handguns beyond those contained in the law."
Coastal updated its policy on weapons to comply with state law and USG guidelines.
"Our school policy on weapons has always mirrored the state law," Sipe said. "Just the verbiage of the old one had to be amended because it changed so much."
The law defines "concealed" as being carried in a fashion that doesn't solicit attention of others and is not prominently displayed other than for purposes of self-defense or the defense of others.
Handguns can be carried while substantially — but not necessarily completely — covered by clothing, within a bag or in another manner that keeps the weapon out of view.
It's a misdemeanor crime for a license-holder to carry a handgun into a space that violates the exceptions. It may also violate the school's student code of conduct and personnel rules.
"It will be the responsibility of those license-holders who choose to carry handguns on campus to know the law and to understand where they can go while carrying," Wrigley said. "Institutions will not provide gun storage facilities or erect signs outside restricted areas."
The college hosted its first information session on HB 280 Thursday at the Brunswick and Camden campuses. The next session will take place July 19 at 10 a.m. at Stembler Theatre on the Brunswick campus.
Sipe said the first session Thursday included both those who are concerned about campus safety following the change and those who hold licenses and wanted to educate themselves before carrying on campus.
"For some people who are worried, it's given us the chance to reiterate the emergency preparedness and safety programs that we already had in place," Sipe said.