Six Georgia professors filed suit in state court Monday to stop a law that allows licensed concealed carriers to bring guns onto campus.
The complaint, brought against Governor Nathan Deal and Attorney General Chris Carr, argues that the state’s guns-on-campus law infringes on the University System of Georgia’s authority over its 30 schools.
In July, Georgia became the 12th state to allow concealed guns on college campuses. Governor Deal signed the campus-carry bill a year after issuing an emphatic veto that invoked the Founding Fathers’ aversion to weaponry in institutions of higher learning, language that the plaintiffs reference in their suit.
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The plaintiffs say that with the advent of campus carry, they don’t have autonomy over their classrooms, and several maintain that guns make learning environments less safe. One University of Georgia geography professor is described in the complaint as a gun owner and said guns on campus “negatively impact his educational mission.” A tenured professor at Valdosta State University said he’s altered his teaching practices in response to the law, discontinuing in-person office hours and transitioning his core courses to an online format. Another Valdosta State professor said he “regularly encounters emotionally and psychologically distressed students,” including one who committed suicide.
It’s not the first time faculty at a public university system have sued over guns on campus. In July, a federal judge tossed a lawsuit brought by three University of Texas professors who sought to overturn the state’s campus-carry law, which took effect last year. They argued that the presence of guns on campus curtailed classroom discussion, but the judge ruled that the educators couldn’t supply evidence that they were actually harmed by the policy, or by the defendants listed in the suit.
Peter Canfield, an attorney representing the Georgia professors, explained in an email why he thought his clients’ suit would not fail on the same grounds.
“The question is not whether mandatory guns on campus laws violate professors’ First Amendment rights,” he wrote in an email. In Georgia, Canfield continued, the question is whether campus carry “improperly interferes” with the state university system’s ability to run itself.
“Under the Georgia constitution those issues are for the University System to decide, not the General Assembly,” he wrote.