It’s rainy on Georgia Tech’s campus the day Rob Montgomery finishes his last final exam. He’s 22 and headed into his fifth year for mechanical engineering.
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“I only recently acquired the license though, and I only also recently got my first pistol,” he says.
Montgomery also owns a shotgun and an AR-15 he bought himself. He says he’s looking forward to carrying concealed more regularly.
And while many who opposed the measure are reeling at Gov. Nathan Deal’s signing of the campus carry bill, some students like Montgomery say the law will make their lives easier and safer.
We’re outside the Clough Undergraduate building, where he studies late sometimes.
Asked if he’d carry here if he were allowed to, Montgomery responds, “Depends on whether I was walking back and forth to home or not.”
He points to muggings around the school he hears about. And then he bring’s up Black Lives Matter protests.
“I will admit that on some occasions – the riots last summer – I did feel rather unsafe walking home,” he says.
Atlanta’s protests this summer sparked no violence, which Montgomery acknowledged. But said, he said, images of protesters clashing with police in Charlotte after video showed Keith Scott being shot in the back by an officer there alarmed him.
We stopped outside a building with both classes and professor’s offices. The governor has said he feels the language of the bill exempts those offices.
“Ok so if I had a class in here, then I could take it [a gun] in here,” he says. “However, if I wanted to go in and speak to my professor concerning office hours, probably the most prudent thing to do would be to leave my backpack at the door within sight.”
That or plan around the meeting before hand, Montgomery says.
Many professors and students have protested the bill loudly for years. Some on the grounds that potential guns in classrooms make them a less free space for debate around sensitive topics.
“If they don’t know that you have it, there’s no intimidation caused toward the professor, there’s no intimidation toward your fellow classmates,” he says.
He does think that the same potential of more armed students will deter a would-be attacker, however. It appears Deal was swayed by that argument as well.
In his signing statement, Deal said “unfortunately, in parts of the state, the path to higher education travels through dangerous territory.”
The idea that more firearms are an effective solution to attempted violent crimes is one popularized by pro-gun researcher John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime. His methodology has drawn sharp criticism from public health and injury researchers, including in a recent John’s Hopkins study.
Most have found little evidence that guns are successfully used in self-defense at significant rates.
Back at Georgia Tech, Montgomery points to a time he says he wished he’d been armed.
About two years ago, he was walking home to North Avenue from studying on campus past midnight. He says he saw a woman being assaulted.
“He’s kicking her over and over again in the gut while she lies in the gutter,” he says. Montgomery said he could see other bystanders already on their phones, calling for help. In the meantime, he decided to pull out a small folding knife he had and approached, shouting at the man.
“I didn’t know if he was armed. I didn’t know if he had a gun. He’s already in the process of breaking the law. There’s no reason for him not to have a gun on campus,” Montgomery says.
The man jumped in his pickup truck and drove off as Montgomery approached, he says.
I ask, if they’d both had weapons, if Montgomery would have shot the man.
“Well, if he’d pulled a gun on me after I’d pointed one at him, yes. Or if he made an attempt to pull one, yes,” he says. “I’m the version of me who got lucky.”
He knows shooting someone that night would have changed his life, but he believes firmly that getting involved in that way would have been the right thing to do.