Twenty-year-old Murray Martin was shot to death at a party in eastside Savannah at 1 a.m. Feb. 24. Martin was the third homicide committed by a gunman that the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department is investigating this year; other victims were 21-year-old Rebecca Foley shot on Jan. 21, and 17-year-old Evan Colquitt, shot on Jan. 22. And so the gun control debate continues in Savannah.
The debate on public safety in regard to gun control is an issue that has spread quickly, especially since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn. last December. Regulation and legislation to alter laws on gun control has not reached a consensus between political parties in Congress and bills presented on the floor have been geared toward bans on military-style assault weapons.
Background checks, limiting the number of firearms per individual, and security in schools are all included in bills being proposed in Congress, but even with all of the legislation presented, none have been written into federal law.
Gun control legislation is being discussed by state governments at this point. New York was the first state to sign gun control laws, but other states are following suit. Colorado is the first state outside of the East Coast to firmly address gun rights with its 15-round magazine limit after last year’s shooting sprees.
Georgia is taking an alternate stance on gun legislation. A bill that allows gun-licensed individuals to carry firearms into churches, bars and parts of college campuses (supported by GeorgiaCarry.Org) has been adopted by the House. Lawmakers have also gained Senate approval on a plan to keep local governments from banning people who live in public housing from having guns; a plan backed by the National Rifle Association.
“I’m not qualified to get into whether guns — whether we should have guns or not have guns. But I will tell you that we are concerned with the number of guns we’re seeing,” said SCMPD Public Affairs Administrator Julian Miller. “And we are concerned with who has them. It’s very seldom that we pick up somebody who doesn’t have a gun.”
Miller stated that his department is “concerned with how many guns are stolen.” Miller also shared that the SCMPD is attempting to educate people on how to safely lock their guns, keep them secure and keep them away from children. SARGE, a local collaboration between the federal government, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the SCMPD, is one effort focused on getting guns off of the streets and out of the hands of criminals.
“The reality is that there are guns out there — and there are going to be guns out there,” said Miller. And with all of those guns out in Savannah, SCAD Security is communicating with the SCMPD to be well aware of the dangers.
SCAD Security and Transportation Director Jeffrey Smith stated, “But not getting into the politics of it all … weapons are not allowed, or guns in particular, are not allowed on campus. No tolerance.”
The national frequency of shootings is increasing; half of the 12 deadliest shootings in U.S. history have occurred in the last six years. But the availability of guns is not solely to blame for the increase in violence, as the mental health of the shooters is also a factor.
Smith shared that SCAD Security also works closely with Counseling Services to prevent the types of violent crimes that have occurred on other campuses.
“If you take a look at a lot of these tragedies, a lot of the time the perpetrator is supposed to be there anyway. So what we have is a threat assessment team,” said Smith. “So if somebody pops up on the radar, whether it be from a student reporting it, or a faculty member, or something like that, between the dean of student’s office and counseling and faculty … we get together and we go through everything and assess this person to see, do we need to send them off to a counselor? Do we need to do this? What kind of steps do we need to take to make sure that everybody else is OK?”
While the issue on gun control legislation is still being debated, there are measures being taken to safeguard people against the dangers of those who carry firearms with harmful intentions. The argument between a citizen’s right and public safety continues, but with the reality that guns are still out there.
“No matter how small the detail might be, it might be that one thing that links everything else together,” said Smith. “And [with that] you’re able to intervene or do something to keep things from happening — or stop them from happening anymore.”