Concealed weapons on college campuses
* 24 states prohibit concealed weapons on college campuses, including Tennessee and Georgia
* 15 states allow individual colleges to determine whether to allow concealed weapons
* Utah is the only state that prohibits universities from limiting concealed weapons
Source: Students for Concealed Carry on Campus
A bill that could allow concealed weapons onto college campuses was debated Thursday in the Georgia General Assembly, creating anxiety for the state's higher education officials who say guns and college students are a dangerous pairing.
"College students engage in risky behavior like drinking," said Jodi Johnson, vice president for enrollment at student services at Dalton State College in Dalton, Ga. "We certainly don't want to mix guns and alcohol on our campus."
House Bill 61, which could legalize carrying a concealed weapon in all areas of the state except courtrooms, jails and prisons, is a holdover from last year's legislative session.
Introduced last March by State Rep. Tim Bearden, R-Villa Rica, the revised measure has vocal supporters and opponents concerned about its impact on universities and colleges in Georgia.
Twenty four states prohibit carrying concealed weapons on college campuses, including Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. Some students say these laws violate their Second Amendment rights.
"People know that school zones are gun-free zones, but the only people that obey these laws are the people who obey the laws to begin with," said John Wharton, a senior at the University of Georgia and campus leader for Concealed Carry on Campus, a student group pushing for looser gun laws.
Allowing guns on college campuses is necessary for student self defense, said Mr. Wharton.
After 32 people were killed at Virginia Tech when a lone gunman opened fire on the campus in 2007, some wondered if the outcome could have been different if other students or professors had been armed, he said.
"Why would you take away someone's right to defend themselves in a situation like that?" said Mr. Wharton. "The police are a wonderful protective force, but police officers and law enforcement officers cannot be everywhere."
But college administrators say allowing guns on college campuses will not help keep students safe from violent crimes.
"If you allow guns on campus, you allow the risk of theft into the hands of people that aren't licensed or qualified," said Dr. Johnson. "It can be confusing for the campus police about who is the bad guy, and lead to innocent victims and make the campus police job more difficult."
State Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, said she thinks the legislature should have a healthy debate about whether college campuses should be open to gun owners. The current laws are difficult to enforce and are confusing to the public, she said.
"I certainly think that this is something that needs to be looked into very carefully," she said. "I am a strong gun rights advocate."