USD takes part in national ‘empty holster’ protest this week

USD takes part in national 'empty holster' protest this week
The continued debate over whether or not students should be allowed to carry concealed firearms on college campuses continues this week at The University Of South Dakota.

Only this time, the protest is a silent one, with focus on providing more information to the public about the topic of concealed carry.

At noon on a cold, windy Monday, third-year USD law student Jonathan Edwards stood outside the student crossing on Cherry Street. Keeping an empty holster on his side, he was unassuming as he hands out pamphlets of information.

"Read this and decide for yourself," he calmly told a student who is given the information.

Edwards is the USD campus leader for the organization Students For Concealed

Carry On Campus (SCCC), a national non-partisan group of more than 25,000 college students and faculty.

This week (April 21-25) marks the second year of a silent "empty holster" national protest on campuses in which students wear empty holsters in protest of policies that prevent them from carrying their guns on campus.

"The average college student is perfectly capable of carrying a concealed weapon and acting responsibly, Edwards said. "I think most students are pretty responsible, they're here for their education."

The SCCC is not associated with the National Rifle Association.

Edwards said the protests are consisting of only USD students, but is unsure of exactly how many are participating or if the protest being so close to finals week has affected general reaction.

Phil Carter, USD manager of media relations, said he believed this is to be a peaceful protest discussing the issue and no conflicts would take place during the week.

Edwards said the primary goal for USD's protest is to push for the South Dakota Legislature to be the governing body deciding if concealed firearms should be allowed on state campuses, as the Legislature has detailed before where owners can and cannot carry firearms.

A bill (HB1261) was rejected during this year's Legislature that would have allowed people to carry guns on university campuses.

The South Dakota Board of Regents and university presidents currently make the decision on the matter.

"The proper authority has the right to make the decisions. If the state Legislature decides to ban carry-on-campus, we will abide by the law,"

Edwards said.

He said a common misconception and worry about concealed carry on campus is

that students would mistakenly use firearms in petty conflicts with other peers.

Edwards, a non-traditional USD student who enlisted in the Air Force at age 18, where he said he always held a rifle and often drank with others his age while armed, said he believes the average student is mature enough to learn the basics about firearm safety.

He does not support students who want firearms on campus just for show, but those who seriously wish to use one in a case of self-defense.

"I don't know if college students are any different than 18-year-old military guys," Edwards said.

A SCCC press release notes that, based on the data of more than 60 combined semesters, no gun accidents or violence-related incidents have been reported at numerous campuses that have allowed concealed carry.

South Dakota law currently allows anyone of legal age to get a concealed weapon permit with only a clean background check.

Other states such as Oregon and Minnesota require additional firearm training and background checks. But even students without firearms can do something when a rogue shooter takes over their university, Edwards said.

"One of the things that appalls me when I read about the campus shootings that take place is that even if no one's armed, why didn't someone at least throw a book and disrupt this person's train of thought?" he said. "You outnumber him, he has a mindset you can disrupt."

"I think the best escape is a direct assault sometimes," Edwards said.

But while he believes the deaths from the recent campus shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois could have been lessened if concealed firearms were allowed on those campuses, he does not advocate vigilante action.

"We're not talking about running to the scene like the police do. The police are supposed to neutralize the situation," he said. "We're just caught up in the situation."

Edwards will graduate this spring from the USD Law School and hopes to go into private practice. He said while a new student leader will have to be found for USD's chapter of SCCC, he hopes he can remain a supporter.

The overall issue is so divisive, however, that even inside the law school he was criticized by one woman who told Edwards that he had no right to bring up this issue on campus.

"I was thinking (to her), 'What part of the First Amendment do you not understand?' Freedom of expression, you don't have to like my point of view," he said. "But you really should respect the idea that I have a right to my point of view. My point of view could be something that saves your life someday."

Officials at USD Public Safety could not be reached for comment by press time.

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