Robert Eagar is anticipating his twenty-first birthday-but not for the reason many college students do. A certified pistol instructor, president of the Georgia Tech Marksmanship Club, and a Students for Concealed Carry representative, Eagar is waiting for the day he can legally pack heat.
According to Georgia state law, Eagar can obtain a license to carry a gun at 21, but his rights on The Georgia Institute of Technology campus in Atlanta, Ga. are an entirely different matter. As a public university abiding with state law, Georgia Tech does not allow students to carry guns on campus--a law that Eagar and his fellow students are lobbying to change.
In the aftermath of tragedies such as the Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colo. shootings, students across the country are questioning campus safety. Some, like Eagar, say the right to carry a gun on campus is a right to self-defense-a measure that could even prevent deaths in the case of an emergency. But critics say allowing students to carry guns on campus is an accident waiting to happen.
During the past year, Eagar has noticed a build-up of violent crime in and around Georgia Tech's downtown Atlanta campus. In one of six consecutive criminal incidents last year, a student woke up in his dorm room with a gun to his head, Eagar said.
In response to increased threats of violence, Eagar and his peers are currently working closely with Georgia state representatives to push forward a bill that would allow licensed students to carry guns on public school campuses. A legislative session in January will determine whether or not the new bill passes.
Although the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants citizens the right to bear arms, state governments individually regulate gun use. If state law legalized guns on campus, nothing could stand between students and their right to carry, Eagar said.
At The University of Colorado in Boulder, students may now carry guns on campus after a state supreme court ruling in March determined the school's no-gun policy violated state law. The decision to change university policy comes only months after the fatal movie theatre shooting in Aurora--a juxtaposition that has some students outraged.
But prohibiting students from carrying makes them more vulnerable, Eagar said: "They can carry off campus and they do so safely every day."
The boundary between campus and the rest of the world may be thin, but Georgia Tech senior Alex Rawden believes college is simply not the place for guns.
"College is a pretty emotional time. You never know when someone will make a bad decision," Rawden said. "I feel safer knowing that there isn't someone in class next to me with a gun."
Because college campuses are densely populated, even someone with the best intentions could misfire, Rawden said. Students who could qualify for concealed carry permits aren't as well trained as police officers, he said.
But Jerry Falwell Jr., chancellor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., disagrees.
"It adds to the security and safety of the campus and it's a good thing," Falwell told the Huffington Post last year. "If something -- God forbid -- ever happened like what happened at Virginia Tech, there would be more than just our police officers who would be able to deal with it."
Last November, Liberty's Board of Trustees decided to reverse the school's weapons ban. Now, Liberty students are allowed to carry guns on campus--but not without limitations. Guns are not permitted in academic buildings or dorms. Instead, they must stay in students' cars. Before getting a permit to carry, students must pass extensive background checks in addition to fulfilling state license requirements. Any infractions to the honor code or alcohol policy can revoke a student's gun privileges.
Junior Scott Van Eerden feels comfortable with the new gun policy: "The classes and requirements that the commonwealth of Virginia requires to own and possess a gun, prepares the owner for safety. The right to carry a gun on campus is a necessary security blanket for students."
Two hundred colleges, including Liberty, allow students to carry guns on campus. None has reported a gun-related accident in six years, according to Students for Concealed Carry.
"Nowadays you can't always feel completely safe on campus," Van Eerden said. "But with our security personnel and security measures, I feel safe."