Lead plaintiff John Knox, a tenured professor of geography, claims that Georgia House Bill 280, which took effect July 1, usurps the University Board of Regents’ constitutional authority over management of the University System of Georgia.
“In conjunction with two other Georgia statutes, the intended effect of HB 280 is to require institutions of higher learning, including those in the USG system, to permit licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons on campus,” the complaint states.
The defendants in the Sept. 25 complaint in Fulton County Superior Court are Governor Nathan Deal and Attorney General Christopher Carr.
The University of Georgia System has 29 campuses. The plaintiff professors teach at the main campus and at Valdosta State and Georgia Southwestern universities.
“The Georgia Constitution vests ‘[t]he government, control, and management of the University System’ in the Board of Regents, not in the legislature,” the complaint states. This question of education policy is therefore for the Board to resolve, in conjunction with the faculties to which it has delegated responsibility for governance of University System institutions.”
Guns have been prohibited on University of Georgia campuses since 1810. But HB 280 “withdraws criminal penalties for weapons-carry license holders who possess concealed firearms ‘in any building or on real property owned by or leased to any public technical school, vocational school, college, or university, or other institution of postsecondary education,’” the professors say, quoting from the statute.
The professors say that “the presence of guns in classrooms and laboratories will create an increased risk of physical harm to plaintiffs, other university employees, and students. Especially in laboratory or studio environments, even an accidental discharge could yield devastating consequences. Moreover, a recent, comprehensive academic review of the evidence and studies on guns-on-campus laws found that ‘[i]ncreasing gun availability in campus environments could make far more common acts of aggression, recklessness, or self-harm more deadly and, thus, have a deleterious impact on the safety of students, faculty, and staff.’ This is due, in part, to unique characteristics of the college-aged population and campus environment, including unreliable impulse control among young adults, the prevalence of substance abuse on college campuses, and the stress that comes with living away from home for the first time.” (Citation omitted to report by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.)
Professor Knox “believes that guns in the classroom make the learning environment less safe for everyone and negatively impact his educational mission.”
The professors say possession of concealed guns on campus has a chilling effect on classroom discussion and may lead to intimidation from students who receive failing grades.
Professors Laurel Robinson and William Whitman say the presence of guns may create undue safety hazards in university art studios and laboratories.
“Accidental or purposeful discharge of a gun inside the sculpture and glass-blowing studios where large tanks of compressed gas are present could cause a dangerous explosion which could kill or injure others in the classroom,” the complaint states.
Whitman, a tenured professor of microbiology, says his laboratory contains “volatile chemicals and other hazardous chemicals, radioisotopes, biohazardous recombinant microorganisms and compressed gases, including hydrogen. The gases are stored in cylinders that, if pierced, will explode.”
Whitman, who has worked for the University of Georgia for 35 years, says his lectures “sometimes focus on controversial topics, including evolution. And his teaching methodology involves classroom debate in which some strongly held beliefs are challenged. Over the years, Professor Whitman has taught many students with depression and other mental illnesses.”
Whitman says that because of the dangers posed by guns in his classroom, he “plans to retire if guns become too prevalent on campus.”
Professors at the University of Texas have retired or transferred after Texas allowed concealed weapons on campus.
Attorney General Christopher Carr’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The professors seek an injunction barring the state from enforcing HB 280 and from invalidating the campus firearm policies established by the Board of Regents.
They are represented by Peter Canfield with Jones Day in Atlanta.