Oglethorpe leader pushes for action on gun safety

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

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ATLANTA —

A local university president is making national headlines with a call for gun safety among his colleagues.

Oglethorpe University President Lawrence Schall wrote an open letter that in four days garnered more than 300 signatures of support.

"On anything that's controversial we get nervous because we have lots of constituents, and you always think, 'What if I offend somebody who is a donor?' So it says something that over 300 presidents signed on," Schall told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.

Schall says he wrote the letter in the wee hours of Monday morning, when he couldn't sleep after watching the memorial service and President Barack Obama's speech in Newtown, Conn. The open letter, addressed to "our nation's policy leaders," calls for a gun safety movement, including a ban on assault weapons and the closure of gun show loopholes which help avoid background checks.

"The issue of gun safety has become very politicized. I don't see it as a political issue; it's a safety issue," said Schall, "I'm proud to be among this group."

He sent his letter to a few colleagues. Within hours, 15 signed it. By Monday evening, it was 25.

"Well, that's pretty good, I was pretty pleased. Then I woke up Tuesday morning and I think we had 100, and it just exploded," said Schall.

The letter now bears the signatures of more than 300 college and university presidents from around the country, unified in their message. They all oppose legislation that would allow guns on campuses or in classrooms.

"Having random people with guns on campus sitting in a classroom, having students having them in the residence halls, is just a bad idea. It's just a really bad idea and will make our campus less safe, not more safe," said Schall.

"Students carrying guns in the classroom or the dorm? I don't feel safe at all," said student Ivy Lee.

She's visiting from Korea to study English and says back home, very few people have guns or the violence that results.

"If everybody has guns, then that means I have to protect myself, too, so I have to get my gun, so I don't think it's appropriate. It's too dangerous, I think," said Lee.

Many of the public university presidents, including those of University of Georgia and Georgia State University, have not signed Schall's letter. But Schall says that doesn't necessarily mean they're against it. He acknowledges public schools have to deal with politics that make it harder to sign their names to something like this.

"I don't think there are many people in my position around the country that would disagree with the substance, but some of us felt more comfortable signing than others," said Schall.

He also created a website at www.collegepresidentsforgunsafety.org to help reach additional schools and publicize the list of those who have signed.

"We've got hunters in this group of presidents, and we're not anti-gun. We just think we ought to come to our senses on this stuff," said Schall. "The Second amendment doesn't speak to what weapons, it says people have the right to bear arms. It's illegal for them to have machine guns. You wouldn't want them having rocket launchers in their house."