A bill now in the South Carolina Senate would allow people who have concealed weapons permits to carry their guns on college campuses, which are now, by state law, gun-free zones.
Co-sponsor Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, says, “According to some students, there's been 14 off-campus sexual assaults involving students at USC and they've had one on campus, so these folks need to be able to protect themselves.”
In order to draw attention to the fact that they're not allowed to carry their weapons on campus, some students who have concealed weapons permits, or CWPs, are wearing empty gun holsters as they walk around campus this week. University of South Carolina student Joseph Hayden, from Greer, is one. “I've noticed a few people look at it. You know, people whisper things as I walk by, but nobody's asked me anything quite yet.”
If someone does ask him, he's ready to explain that he thinks banning CWP holders form carrying their guns helps only criminals. “This is an open campus, where people are free to come on campus and leave. There's no barriers keeping people on or off, and, I mean, that allows the criminals to come and go as they please. But law-abiding citizens that are licensed by the state to carry a weapon have to stop at that line or leave their firearms off campus, and it just creates a dangerous situation,” he says.
Fellow USC student Dylan Walpole is also wearing an empty holster this week. “It doesn't make sense that, you know, a CWP holder can be legal on one side of Main Street and then be a felon on the other side just because of a gun-free zone on a school campus prevents him from carrying his firearm,” he says.
The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, a national group fighting state bills to allow guns on college campuses, says arming students would make campuses more dangerous, armed students would be accountable to no one, arming students would not deter the rare campus shooting and that academic debate cannot flourish in a room full of guns.
USC student Kenny Adamson, one of the organizers of Students for Concealed Carry at USC, says the bill would not mean hundreds of guns on campus. “There are not many people that would be able to carry,” he says. “You look at the percentage of the student body that is 21 or over and is licensed to carry, it's very small.”
Walpole also disputes the argument by The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus. “You can't really justify the notion that more guns on campus are going to make it less safe, because the CWP holders are not the ones committing crimes,” he says.
The bill has been assigned to a Senate subcommittee but has not had a hearing yet.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Utah is the only state with a law that does not allow colleges to ban concealed weapons. But recent court rulings in Colorado and Oregon have overturned those states' laws banning guns from campuses.