Published Tuesday, January 29, 2013
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
While restricting access to certain guns is the focus of the day on the federal stage, Georgia legislators may be debating doing away with some restrictions on carrying guns.
A bill has been filed in the Georgia House that would do away with the prohibition on carrying guns on college campuses.
It’s certainly not the first time such a change has been proposed.
“That is something we’ve had before. And it’s not passed, but it’s gotten a lot of debate,” said state Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan.
“I think that personal safety is certainly an issue,” Smith said. “I don’t how that debate will resolve itself. Because when you get down to it and you’re trying to see a bill come to the floor for a debate, it either doesn’t get out of committee or the Rules Committee.”
A campus carry bill — or provision in another bill — has never made it to the House floor for debate, she said.
Whether that bill makes it or not, Smith thinks the legislators sponsoring that bill and other bills are “reaffirming that Georgia is a Second Amendment state.”
“The overwhelming majority of Georgia legislators are strong Second Amendment supporters,” Smith said. But it’s a different matter to get that kind of specific bill passed. “I don’t know what is going to happen this year to those kinds of things and whether they move or not,” she said. “It happens at that particular committee level and it also happens at the higher-up levels like the Speaker’s office.”
House Bill 29 was written by Rep. Charles Gregory, R-Kennesaw, who was elected in 2012.
“I support the right for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves by allowing them to choose when, where and what means of defense serves them best,” said state Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan.
“Restrictions only limit those who obey the law, and have no effect on the criminal or mentally-unstable elements in our society,” Crane said.
Gregory has also filed a bill to eliminate the prohibition on carrying guns in churches, and one to eliminate the license requirement for carrying handguns, among other changes. Private colleges, and churches, would be free to prohibit guns on their own private property.
The college carry bill might be getting the attention in the press, but “the one I am hearing the most buzz about around the capitol is — what can the legislature do by way of empowering local governments for safety in the schools?” Smith said. “What can the state do to help local schools have law enforcement?”
Aware that the Coweta County School System has had police officers in schools for years, Smith researched Coweta’s School Resource Officer program.
“Local school systems can already work something out. We might not need a state bill,” Smith said.
The Coweta County School System has full-time law enforcement officers in all high schools and middle schools. The elementary schools have the Students Are For Education — SAFE — program. There are four SAFE officers that rotate among the elementary schools.
The first SROs arrived at Newnan and East Coweta high schools for the 1995-1996 school year. The program expanded to the middle schools in 1997-1998, said Dean Jackson, public information officer for the school system.
The SAFE program stretches back even further. It started as DARE in 1991.
There are 13 SROs from the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office and five from the Newnan Police Department.
The school system and the respective law enforcement agencies split the cost of the program.
Following the recent Newtown shooting, “the sheriff’s office and the Newnan Police Department worked with the superintendent and the school system to closely review security at our schools,” and they’ve reviewed safety planning with staff and reviewed facility designs, Jackson said.
“They are also meeting with school faculty and staff directly to discuss security.”
“Before and after the Christmas holidays, both agencies provided expanded presence at our elementary schools. Their increased patrols at schools have continued,” Jackson said.
Coweta Schools Superintendent Steve Barker is also considering adding more SROs, Jackson said.
“Mainly what I have been able to do is brag about what we are doing in Newnan and Coweta County in our school system,” said Smith.
“Long ago, our school system and our sheriff and the Newnan Police Department addressed that issue... in my mind that is a decision of local school systems and local law enforcement,” she said.
“That is pure local control,” Smith said.
“I’m going to start using ours as an example.”