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USF students protest on-campus gun ban

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Published:   |   Updated: April 9, 2013 at 06:32 AM
TAMPA -

While hundreds of students, a school band, cheerleaders and Rocky the Bull celebrated the kickoff of USF Week today, another group of students launched a smaller demonstration – by strapping on empty holsters to promote gun rights.

A handful of University of South Florida students are participating in the weeklong Empty Holster Protests at campuses around the country. The students want to undo a state law that prevents anyone, including those permitted to carry concealed weapons, from bringing a gun on campus.

“We want the law to be reversed as a deterrent,” said Bradley Searles, a junior economics major. “If people think, 'Well, gosh, If I go to this campus I don't know who might be carrying or who might not be,' they might be less inclined to come and commit a crime. Or students themselves might be less inclined to commit a crime.”

Added Emily Schwab, head of the College Republicans on the USF campus: “We're trying to make it known that the Second Amendment doesn't end on school property.”

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives citizens the right to bear arms. Florida Statute 790.06, however, prevents even concealed-weapons permit holders from taking a gun into “any college or university facility unless the licensee is a registered student, employee, or faculty member of such college or university and the weapon is a stun gun or nonlethal electric weapon or device designed solely for defensive purposes and the weapon does not fire a dart or projectile.”

Florida is one of 22 states that do not allow guns on college campuses.

The protest was not scheduled to coincide with USF Week, an annual celebration of school pride. It is actually organized by a national group, Students for Concealed Carry, and has been championed by the College Republicans at USF.

It's just one example of how young conservatives in the Tampa area are making their position clear as America debates gun control in the wake of the mass shootings such as the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.

Also today, the Young Republicans of Tampa Bay said the group has sent a letter to Magpul Inc. of Boulder, Colo., encouraging the company to relocate to Tampa. Magpul is looking for new digs after Colorado passed a law prohibiting people from owning the type of magazines Magpul produces – those holding more than 15 rounds.

Technically, companies such as Magpul can still produce the magazines in Colorado even if the company can't sell them to Colorado residents. But in its public statements, Magpul has said its customers would protest if it continued to operate in the state. Magpul employs about 200 people.

The Young Republicans enlisted Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan and two Republican state representatives from Tampa – Dana Young and James Grant – to sign the letter. The group hasn't heard back from Magpul, but Hagan has asked county staff to consider recruiting companies like Magpul.

“I am very supportive of any legitimate business that is interested in moving their operations to our state,” Young said in a prepared statement. “A large business like Magpul would bring hundreds of jobs to our state, and job creation is our number one priority.”

At USF, in addition to wearing the empty holsters on their hips, the protesters say they will circulate petitions calling for the reversal of Florida's ban on campus guns.

The protest isn't sitting well with some USF students.

The Oracle, the USF student newspaper, editorialized against the demonstration, saying the protesters were engaging in “fear-mongering tactics.” Facebook wars have broken out, and some students said they didn't support their peers toting weapons on campus.

Jennifer Stenback, a freshman in public health, called it “a really bad idea.”

“I just feel like if you're arming everybody, somebody could misconstrue a situation to be something it's not,” Stenback said. “You'd have accidental shootings. I don't really think it would solve the problem.”

The university's police department sent an email to the university community advising of the weeklong protest. The department asked that if people see an actual firearm carried by anyone other than a police officer, they call 911 immediately.


jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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