Ga. Lawmakers Push Guns As Campus Sexual Assault Prevention

Mar 7, 2016

One night after Layla Detko said she met with a study group on the campus of Kennesaw State University, she was walking to her car in a parking garage. 

"Two very large men were approaching the exit,” she said. “As I entered the stairwell one jumped around and made a very loud noise, gestured to scare me, terrified me, backed in a corner.”

Detko testified before Georgia lawmakers recently. She told them the men were blocking her path to the alarm systems in the stairwell. They were just there to scare her, and she’s thankful she wasn’t raped, or sexually assaulted.

"I don't think a taser or pepper spray would have stopped them, and I've been trained with my gun. I do have a concealed permit, and I've taken classes to know how to handle myself in stressful situations. And I think it would be ─ it would have prevented anything, if something had happened," she said.

Amidst national attention on sexual assault, the latest argument for a proposed “campus carry” law in Georgia is that college students can better protect themselves if they can carry weapons.

But some fear that would make the problem worse.

Current Georgia law said Detko and others with concealed carry permits can't take their weapons on the campuses of public universities.

“The universities should not take your ability to defend yourself, no matter what, from you. And this thing about punching lights and running and calling for help .. .that ain't right,” said Republican Rep. Rick Jasperse.

The self-labeled “gun bill guy” was behind legislation in 2014 called the “guns everywhere bill” that garnered national attention, but his previous attempts to legalize “campus carry” failed.

The strategy is different this year.

"We're addressing real victims, and I think that's where Representative Ballinger really made me think about that's who this is about. Not all this other hoopla and rah-rah,” he said.

Republican Rep. Mandi Ballinger is his new female cosponsor. She said "campus carry" is good for women. 

"Physically we're generally speaking ... smaller, and it's very empowering for most women to be able to have a firearm; it's an equalizer,” she said.

But Laura Briggs, a recent University of Georgia graduate and a sexual violence prevention advocate in Athens, said "campus carry" would create a new threat to the safety of potential victims.

“These survivors will live in terror. Because their assailant or abuser can now legally carry a loaded gun,” she said.

And Briggs, a volunteer for a rape crisis hotline, said people who call the line, “are just so upset, and they're so traumatized and I don't want to think what could happen if they had access to a gun." 

University leaders worry the bill will pass.

The presidents of UGA, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, and Kennesaw State all say "campus carry" would make their schools less safe, and so does Hank Huckaby, the chancellor of the University System of Georgia.

"Our campus police officers will tell you that allowing students to have firearms on campus makes their job extremely challenging,” he said.

But, Rep. Jasperse said it's about the right of students to protect themselves, and he argues Georgia already has laws that say students, or people in general, can’t threaten each other with weapons.

“If they try that, that's a breaking of Georgia law, and it will be dealt with swiftly and thoroughly as the law allows. Nobody is saying that's going to be tolerated, because it’s not,” said Rep. Jasperse.

The "campus carry" bill has already passed the Georgia House. A Senate committee could consider changes to it on Monday.