"The grand ideas of Ronald Reagan live…in young Americans like Jason Shepherd…"

AJC: Recent violence pushes gun debate for Georgia colleges

By D. Aileen Dodd


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

5:00 a.m. Sunday, December 11, 2011

A campus police officer is ambushed and shot to death at Virginia Tech.

A few days earlier a Georgia Tech student is robbed and beaten near campus.

Georgia State installs 50 new security cameras after a rash of student robberies.

Growing campus violence is fueling the debate over whether college students should be allowed to carry guns on campus to protect themselves.

Georgia law prohibits guns on university grounds. Students who have gun permits may not carry weapons in their backpacks or keep them in their dorms.

They must leave weapons in their locked cars.

Last week, Georgia Tech College Republicans joined forces with Students for Concealed Carry on Campus to push for a change in the law that would allow students to possess weapons on university grounds.

Here is how two Georgia officials stand on the debate:

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Jason Shepherd, 36

General Counsel, Young Republican National Federation, former political aide to Newt Gingrich

The way Jason Shepherd sees it, college students are easy marks for criminals. They carry cash, laptops, iPods, expensive smartphones. And they are unarmed.

“It sends an open message to the criminal element of Atlanta: Come. Here are easy pickings,” he said. “If you go onto a college campus, with the exception of campus police, you are going to be looking at a completely unarmed and helpless group of people.

“I think it’s an issue both parents and policy-makers really need to be concerned about.”

Shepherd said new legislation should be passed to allow students to bring guns on college campuses. And parents should consider gun safety training for their high school-aged children before they send them off to college.

“We are not really talking about kids; we are talking about young adults,” Shepherd said. “If they join the Army or any of the armed forces, they are going to be given a gun. In Georgia, there is a history and culture of hunting and sportsmanship. A lot of kids who are native to Georgia have grown up with the understanding that guns are a tool and not a toy and they need to be treated with respect, as something that is potentially dangerous.

“We do have processes in Georgia, background checks that are designed to add an element of security and help determine who can possess a gun and who cannot possess a gun. … If I have a right to still carry a gun anywhere else in the state of Georgia, why can’t I carry it in the place where I may need the most protection? It’s people who are trying to obey the law and do the right thing that are the ones that become the victim.”

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Frank V. Rotondo, 62

Executive director, Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police

Frank Rotondo, whose career in law enforcement spans 42 years, is concerned about the state’s current gun permit laws and how easy it is for some people to access guns.

“The reality is, you can get a permit in Georgia if you’re 84 years of age and blind,” Rotondo said. “That’s true.”

Rotondo said before co-eds begin toting guns across campus, Georgia needs to make its gun permit process more rigorous.

“The one thing that the permit statutes don’t do is [require] a professional exam,” he said. “I would relax a lot more if, in order to obtain a permit in Georgia, you have to pass a firearm safety program and a proficiency program.”

Rotondo said after that requirement, the decision could be left up to the universities to decide whether to allow guns, and to parents to decide whether to send their teens to schools that allow weapons in dorms.

“We all have to be very aware that most of the students on campus are under the age of 21, which would be under the legal age to receive a permit,” he said. “Often campus rooms are shared rooms with a lot of freedom. There is a slight degree of probability that a weapon may be taken from a room. … You have to worry about the ingestion of alcohol. There is a high correlation of people going to undergraduate school and drinking.”

Rotondo said he has campus police colleagues on both sides of the issue.

“Those who say ‘no’ are probably the ones that supervise their campuses very closely and feel like they could control the crime rate without the students taking it into their own hands,” he said.

http://www.ajc.com/news/recent-violence-pushes-gun-1256492.html