Prior to 2016, Georgia law prohibited anyone except law enforcement from having weapons of any kind on school property. The current legislature passed a bill that will have an impact on student safety at Georgia’s public colleges and universities. The bill will allow students to possess electroshock weapons (stun guns) on campus.
At this writing the Governor has not signed the bill and still has an opportunity to veto it. Properly used stun guns can and have reduced the number of police-involved shooting deaths. But, improperly used stun guns can be extremely dangerous. People have died or suffered severe injury from being shot with a stun gun. Last fall the Washington Post ran a story relating how there had been 48 deaths involving stun guns in the USA in 2015. Half of the victims were mentally ill or using illegal drugs.
Police use of stun guns rarely results in death, but it has occurred. In North Carolina, a 17-year-old grocery clerk died after police used a stun gun during his arrest. In Savannah, a 27-year-old bank employee, believed to be bipolar, died after being hit with a stun gun and left alone in a cell. In Texas, a mentally ill 34-year-old fought with police until they used a stun gun. He died two days later. In New York, a 39-year-old man diagnosed with schizophrenia walked to a corner store when he was stopped by police. When officers attempted to handcuff him, he resisted and the officers used a stun gun. The man stopped breathing and died at a hospital a short time later.
Manufacturers warn that improper use of a stun gun can result in serious injury or death. Among the warnings are instructions to avoid areas near the heart and avoid the head and throat. Users are also told to avoid repeated or prolonged use of a stun gun. They should not be used on pregnant women. Knowing the danger stun guns pose, why would anyone want to put them in the hands of 18-year-old college students? Well, our legislature has a history of doing things without considering the possible unintended consequences.
A previous Georgia state legislature enacted a law that essentially says if a local government prohibits firearms in a public building, it must put in place security to enforce that prohibition. So, all over this state, cities and counties are spending millions of dollars guarding administrative offices — not courtrooms. mind you (they were already covered) — but places where citizens go to pay their taxes, buy their tags and conduct other routine business with their government.
Gentlemen, leave your pocket knife at home. If it’s in your pocket, you will be told to go back to your vehicle and leave it there. And remove your belt. Yes, your belt. Somebody somewhere had a weapon hidden in a belt buckle. Can you imagine how long a private retail business or bank would survive treating its customers in a similar manner? All this is happening while we are being told by President Barak Obama and other leaders to go about our lives in a normal manner — otherwise the bad guys win. Mr. President, would you please resend your memo? Not everyone got it.
And, before someone gets the idea that students should be allowed to bring handguns into the classroom, let’s consider some incidents that began as routine law enforcement matters and ended with the worst possible outcome.
It was business as usual at the Fulton County Courthouse as a Superior Court judge and his clerk prepared for a major criminal trial. Nearby a deputy sheriff was preparing a prisoner for his appearance before the judge, removing his physical restraints. With all restraints removed the prisoner tacked and overpowered the deputy, removing her service weapon from a gun locker. The prisoner then entered the courtroom and began a string of murders. After killing the judge, he shot the court clerk. With two victims dead or dying, he left the courthouse in a stolen vehicle, killing two law enforcement officers before he is captured.
In Florida, several law enforcement officers were completing a day on the firing range when a weapon unexpectedly fires. The errant bullet ricocheted off a bench and killed an officer.
Those are just two examples of many incidents that occur every year. Even firearm instructors, the ultimate experts, accidently shoot and kill fellow police officers. These accidents happen in places where the lead topic at every meeting is safety first. Phrases such as “assume every firearm is loaded,” and “never point at anything you don’t intend to shoot” are posted for all to see.
I was standing in the checkout line of a local home improvement store when a loud explosive sound filled the area. I was looking about the store for the source when I heard a scream and turned to see a little girl crying and visibly shaking.
Then I saw it, just 10 feet away: a large caliber pistol on the concrete floor. Nearby a man was examining the calf of his leg, which appeared to have several small wounds. A store employee took the pistol and removed the bullets. The police conclude that it was all an accident. The gun owner had a valid weapons carry permit. The gun had fallen from his belt and discharged when it struck the floor. Miraculously, no one was seriously hurt and no charges were filed against the gun owner.
The incidents described here actually happened and are used to illustrate:
• Weapons are stolen or forcibly taken from their owners;
• Bad things happen when the wrong people get weapons;
• Accidents happen to even the most qualified weapon experts; and
• Civilian possession of lethal weapons in public places can be extremely dangerous.
So, knowing this, why do legislatures do things that are counterproductive?
Legislatures have been doing this for centuries. When the colonies of North America declared their freedom from Great Britain, in part because of an arbitrary and self-serving taxing policy, a British statesman, Edmund Burke, asked why Parliament imposed the new taxes. Parliament said it did so because it had the legal right to impose the additional taxes. Burke said he didn’t question Parliament’s legal authority but questioned its judgement and added “It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do, but what humanity, reason and justice tell me I ought to do.”
Full disclosure: I have served in the military and worked as a federal law enforcement officer. I am familiar with weapons. I support police officers doing their dangerous work in a legal manner and I support officers having weapons that protect them and saves lives. I own guns and I have a Georgia Weapons Carry License. I respect and defend the right of others to own guns. I also respect the fact that weapons that fire projectiles can kill. Mistakes can be fatal and final with no makeup exams.
This is part of a series of columns on government by Jerry Roseberry. Roseberry is Mayor of Oxford and Vice Chairman of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission Council. He can be reached at JRoseberry@oxfordgeorgia.org.