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Concealed handguns allowed at local public colleges

COVINGTON, Ga. - As of July 1 weapons carry license holders may carry concealed handguns in certain places on public college campuses. License holders are responsible for knowing their campus’ policies and for finding out exactly where on campus they can and cannot carry a concealed handgun. They then need to plan ahead so as not to carry a weapon into a prohibited area and otherwise comply with the law.

License holders who violate the law are guilty of a misdemeanor. Those who are not license holders and who violate the law are guilty of a felony.

Two public colleges have campuses in Newton County, Georgia State University (GSU) and Georgia Piedmont Technical College (GPTC). Each has established similar, but slightly different, guidelines for the implementation of HB 280.

Signed into law by Governor Deal on May 4, that bill authorized weapons carry license holders to carry concealed handguns on public college and university campuses subject to certain restrictions as discussed below.

As a private institution, Oxford College of Emory University is not subject to HB 280. According to Rus Drew, chief of police for Emory University, weapons are prohibited on all Emory campuses, including Oxford College, except for those carried by police officers.

To obtain a weapons carry license in Georgia, one must be at least 21 years old and successfully go through the application process at his or her county probate court. A significant number of students on Newton County’s public college campuses are not old enough to get a license.

HB 280 allows license holders to carry concealed handguns in buildings or on land owned or leased by a college or university, except in certain campus locations as described in the bill. The prohibited locations and some of the guidance from GSU and GPTC on those locations are discussed below. However, license holders should obtain a copy of their campus’ guidelines and review them carefully.

Weapons cannot be carried into buildings or on property used for intercollegiate athletic sporting events such as stadiums, gymnasiums and similar facilities; into student housing facilities; or into rooms, spaces or controlled access playgrounds used for pre-school or childcare. Neither GPTC’s nor GSU’s Newton County campuses currently include any of these three types of facilities.

Weapons cannot be carried into any room that is being used for a class in which high school students are enrolled. This prohibition only applies to rooms used for classes and during an actual class. It does not apply to common areas or hallways where high school students might be present. It is the responsibility of the weapons carry license holder to find out whether or not his or her classes include a high school student.

GSU’s guidelines state, “License holders who want to carry handguns to class will need to visit the institution’s registrar or other designated employee, who after verifying their enrollment status will tell them which of their classes, if any, have high school students enrolled.”

In a follow-up email, Andrea Jones, associate vice president for public relations and marketing communications, wrote that license holders currently must go to the GSU registrar’s office on the Atlanta campus to find out which of their classes include high school students. Although GSU is developing a digital lookup system to take care of this, for now, individuals must go in person to the registrar’s office in Atlanta. She added, “A teacher cannot inform his or her students.”

GPTC’s Student Guidance and Education document states, “Students may ask their fellow classmates if anyone is a high school student, however, fellow students are not required to identify themselves as a high school student.”

In an email message, Martha Pacini, executive director of marketing and public relations, added, “Weapons license carriers can ask their instructors or the registrar one-on-one.  The instructor or registrar can indicate yes or no, but not identify individual students.”

Weapons cannot be carried into faculty, staff, or administrative offices or office suites or rooms where disciplinary hearings of any kind are being held.

Neither GSU nor GPTC will post signs to indicate where concealed handguns are allowed or prohibited. That means that weapons carry license holders must understand their university’s or college’s policies, must find out in advance whether or not a handgun can be carried into rooms and spaces in which he or she will be studying or visiting, and then plan accordingly so as not to violate the law.

Both GSU and GPTC state they will not provide any sort of gun storage facilities. Handguns may be stored in cars in college parking lots. Jones added, “We encourage permit holders to secure their weapons in a lock box in their vehicle.”