National News

'Campus carry' gun law goes into effect at Clayton State

Posted July 11

— It's been one week since legislation allowing licensed students, faculty and others to carry concealed handguns on University System of Georgia property took effect at public colleges and universities across the state.

The so-called "campus carry" legislation was signed into Georgia law by Gov. Nathan Deal on May 4 and went into effect on July 1.

In a letter to the University System of Georgia community dated May 24, published for public view on the university system's website, Chancellor Steve Wrigley asked for cooperation and patience as Georgia campuses prepare for the change.

"I respectfully ask everyone to exercise patience, understanding and respect as we implement it," wrote Wrigley. "We all share the same goal of ensuring a safe campus environment. We should work together to implement the law as written and thoughtfully address any complications that may arise."

Clayton State University has recently taken steps to prepare ahead of the 2018 academic year, holding a question and answer session last week, training public safety staff on enforcement of the law and providing information to students and staff.

Director of Public Safety Bobby Hamil said he doesn't "anticipate any problems," but he does recognize that some in the Clayton State community may be cautious of how the law will work in practice.

Under the law, concealed handguns will be permissible anywhere on Clayton State's campus, including classrooms, except in certain areas that are specifically exempt. Those include property used for athletic events, like the Athletics Center, tennis courts and soccer fields; student housing at Laker Hall and non-publicly accessible areas in Laker Village; faculty and administrative offices; and classes with dual-enrolled high school students in the Move On When Ready program.

"It presents some challenges but we feel comfortable that we're well-versed on the statute and just hope that the potential license holders are well-versed on the statute as well," said Hamil, adding that the responsibility falls on the license holder to know where and when they can carry concealed weapons on campus.

"Most concealed carry license-holders are knowledgeable of the law," he said. "If you go to the trouble to get a license to carry your weapon around, you're going to have to be prudent."

During the question and answer session last week, Hamil said he received questions mainly from faculty members expressing concern over firearms carried in classrooms or at specific venues, like at theater events, where a real weapon could be confused for a prop, or in science laboratories containing flammable or combustible materials. Theaters and labs are not exempt from the law.

"But they do understand the law that allows them," he said. "It's still a little unnerving because it's new."

Because of the restrictions, those wishing to carry a concealed handgun on campus will have to consider that they may need a place to store that gun while attending certain classes or events. Faculty can't leave weapons in their offices, and students can't store them in university housing, so the only "logical place," Hamil said, is to secure handguns in personal vehicles.

"It's on them to determine a legally valid place to store the firearm," Hamil said. He acknowledged that storing weapons in a vehicle does increase the risk of vehicle break-ins.

"Our hope is that those that do secure weapons in their vehicle secure them well, locked away or in the trunk," he said. "Don't put it under the seat, and clearly don't leave it in something on your seat, like a briefcase or backpack," that would encourage theft.

He said his staff has trained on how to enforce the new Georgia statute. Violations range from misdemeanor offenses for license holders who fail to substantially conceal their handguns to felony offenses for those who carry a handgun without the proper license.

"If you are going to bring firearms on campus, it's extremely important that you understand this law and comply with it for that very reason," Hamil said. "A fine to jail time, that's a wide range."

Clayton State has planned additional sessions on the legislation during new faculty orientation and faculty meetings in August, according to Public Relations Specialist Kelly Petty. Students have already been made aware of the new legislation and its implementation through internal communication.

Hamil anticipates some additional educational opportunities for students as classes resume in the fall and the campus gets over this "learning curve."

Still, he said, it's not up to public safety officials to encourage or discourage the carrying of concealed weapons on campus.

"Our focus is enforcing the law. It's not anti-gun. It's not pro-gun," Hamil said. "It's just enforcing the law fairly just like any other law."

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