RECENT INCIDENTS on Georgia college campuses have led to outcries for legislation supporting increased protection for students.
Following the passing of House Bill 792, employees and students at least 18 years old are now legally able to carry stun guns on campus.
This law extends throughout all buildings, dorms, and classrooms of the University System of Georgia and the 22 institutions that make up the Technical College System of Georgia.
While some may argue that this may provide the opportunity for students to resort to playful use that could endanger others, the law specifically requires that students only use the devices in cases of self-defense.
For students such as Savannah State University Behavior Analysis major Portia Cuttter, this new law presents a welcome development.
"It’s always a split-decision your life could be in danger in a second," Carter says.
In addition to responsible students who are taking the law seriously, there have also been efforts from campus police officers, such as Armstrong State University’s Chief of Police Wayne R. Willcox, to educate students about the new law and its potential implications.
The overall message being delivered is to simply act responsibly. Willcox says, “If you get someone in an excited state with one of these devices, it can lead to serious injury or possibly even death.”
These increased risk factors may include people with preexisting heart conditions or even those under the influence of certain medications.
Although they will not advise students on whether they think the devices should or shouldn’t be carried, Willcox and other campus officers will continue to emphasize the potential consequences of any careless use of stun-guns.
“You should do research in order to gain a complete understanding of how these devices should be properly used and what effects they could have on victim,” says Willcox.
However, to many students, any risks associated with the device could seem to be worth it considering the recent incidents in which students were victimized.
Earlier this year, two armed robberies occurred within Georgia State University’s library in addition to violent robberies at Georgia Tech. These incidents occurred after the campus carry legislation was filed.
This bill, which was called the Campus Safety Act, would have allowed people 21 years and older with a weapons permit to carry their guns anywhere on Georgia public university campuses, except for dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses and at athletic events.
The law would also have required the weapon to be concealed in order to add a layer of safety. However, questions over where the guns would be stored and concerns about classroom safety ultimately led to the bill being vetoed by Governor Nathan Deal.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Georgia would have been the ninth state to allow concealed carry on college campuses if the law had been passed. The stun-gun bill, sponsored by Rep. Buzz Brockway, was presented as an alternative that would help to appease concerns about campus safety.
The incidents that have taken place on Georgia campuses recently and other national events in the media have continued to fuel arguments from gun rights advocates to allow guns on campuses for increased protection.
Others will continue to argue that guns would present too much of a danger for students and faculty members.
While this argument revolves around colleges, it is evident that the debates over self-defense and rights to carry extend far beyond the college campus community.
As Chief Willcox of Armstrong says, “There are around 900 law enforcement officers spread across the 31 colleges in the state of Georgia.”
This often leads to an environment where campus officers are more visible than street officers due to the lesser area in which they patrol.
This also provides students the opportunity to maintain better relationships with the officers who are on campus.
Someone who is quite familiar with the nature of these debates is Larry Stewart.
With over 40 years of experience in the field of criminal justice, including with the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, Stewart has been able to view such arguments from many different perspectives.
Stewart argues this is a key factor towards insuring that students that carry weapons like Tasers on or off campus will make smart decisions and understand when they are in trouble.
“The role of the police in their presence and their professional visibility as well as their direct operations in the community have a direct connection to how the community feels about reporting crime.”
However, with the advent of social media, any perceived lack of presence or effectiveness can be openly addressed by any concerned citizen.
In regards to how this has changed community relations over the years Stewart says, “I think that social media has opened a lot of doors and opportunities for communities to have a voice.”
These communities include college students, who by fostering a means of communication with campus officers and public legislators, can have their concerns addressed with the appropriate changes in law or policy that can best protect the entire campus community.