Fulton School Board examines school gun policies

New state law expands locations where weapons can be carried

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FULTON COUNTY, Ga. – The landscape on gun control in Georgia took a dramatic turn on July 1 when the provisions of Georgia House Bill 60 went into effect, significantly easing restrictions on where firearms would be allowed, including on K-12 school campuses.

Known as the “Safe Carry Protection Act” by its proponents and the “Guns Everywhere Law” by its detractors, one thing is clear: School boards may soon be compelled to establish boundaries of exactly what makes a school safer.

“The [Fulton Board of Education] plans on having a discussion about the impact of the new laws soon, possibly at their July 22 meeting,” said Fulton Schools Spokeswoman Susan Hale. “At this time, there have been no requests from any staff member to carry a gun on campus.”

H.B. 60 was signed into law in April by Gov. Nathan Deal and went into effect July 1. The new law opens areas where guns can be carried, including into public buildings that do not have weapons screenings in place, such as courtrooms.

Guns can also be carried into unsecured areas of airports, into bars and into churches, unless specifically banned by the church leaders. The law applies to people who are legally permitted to carry and conceal weapons.

The law also allows local school boards to authorize school personnel to carry weapons.

While opponents of the law decried the idea that weapons could make their way onto school grounds, albeit through staff authorized and trained to use a weapon, Georgia is not at the forefront of the issue.

Currently, 20 states allow guns on school campuses. While most have parameters as to when, where and who, four states have no restrictions for people who are legally permitted to carry a weapon.

Currently, the Fulton School System policy restricts weapons on school grounds. According to one board member, that policy will likely not change even with the law.

“Speaking for myself, it is unlikely we will make any modifications to current policies unless there is significant impetus to change the rules we have in place,” said Fulton Board member Katie Reeves of Alpharetta.

She welcomes a discussion of the issue by the board, noting it is the duty of the board members to address the new law and its impact.

The current law in Georgia is a bit ambiguous as it relates to who can carry guns on school campuses. Two versions of the law were passed, with some conflicting information contained, according to the state attorney general’s office.

“There is a general prohibition against carrying weapons in a school safety zone, however a person who possesses a weapons carry license may have a weapon when picking up a student, and may have a weapon in a vehicle that is in transit or parked within a school safety zone,” said officials with the attorney general’s office.

The Fulton School System is a charter school system, allowing flexibility to local schools to make some decisions based on what works best for that school. Reeves said she does not envision a school asking for flexibility to allow guns on campus for administrators, noting the safety decisions will likely be system policies that all schools must follow.

“The current requests for flexibility are more academic-focused,” said Reeves. “But my guess is if we start getting requests for flexibility that involve broader system issues, such as safety, the board and the superintendent would have another discussion on what we hold tight and what we loosen.”

Campus police have a strong presence in county schools

74 officers in high schools, middle schools; some elementary

ATLANTA – Georgia House Bill 60, which eased restrictions on guns in schools across Georgia, was designed to help school systems that did not have or could not afford school resource officers (SROs) or off-duty police officers to provide security.

In the Fulton County School System, a campus police force has been in place since 1989 and currently has 53 sworn officers who provide security at all high schools and middle schools, and some elementary schools.

There is a security presence around the clock and on weekends to take calls for service.

In addition, Fulton Schools employs 21 campus security associates. These associates are trained security officers who help monitor activities on campus, patrol the campus and assist students, administrators, school resource officers and other staff members as needed.

Campus security associates are assigned to the majority of the high schools and a few middle schools, according to a school system spokesperson.

In North Fulton schools, there are 21 school resources officers assigned to the high schools and middle schools, along with four assigned to elementary schools.

– Candy Waylock

JC 07-17-14