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USF Students Hold Empty Holster Protest

There's an unusual sight on USF's Tampa and Sarasota-Manatee campuses this week: a number of students are wearing empty gun holsters over their clothes to protest Florida's ban on concealed weapons on campus.

It's part of a nationwide protest organized by the group Students for Concealed Carry, which is encouraging members to wear empty gun holsters on college campuses this week to start a conversation about schools' bans on concealed weapons.

Although USF doesn't have a chapter, a number of other student groups are joining together in the effort, led by the USF College Republicans.

For executive director Emily Schwab, it's about the constitutional right to carry a gun, as well as about keeping herself safe on campus.

"People who have the intention of hurting someone or harassing someone or doing anything, aren't going to do it next to a blue light (emergency telephones around campus), they aren't going to do it next to the police station during office hours."

USF Police sent out a campus wide note last week (police at USF Sarasota-Manatee released a similar notification) telling students, faculty and staff about the protest. However, they also stress that it's not against the law to simply wear an empty holster.

"Certainly if anyone sees someone with a firearm in that holster, that's a different story. That would be a 911 call that should be generated," says Lt. Charlotte Domingo.

"If people are uncomfortable, this is a First Amendment issue and there are many things that people may be uncomfortable about that other people say or do."

Mark Schreiner speaks with Lt. Charlotte Domingo with the USF Police Department about the agency's response to the open holster protest.

Domingo says, as of late Monday afternoon, they had received no phone calls about safety concerns due to the holsters.

Schwab says her group will be handing out information at the campus Bull Market Wednesday, as well as offering a petition for students to sign urging Florida legislators to drop the ban on weapons.

And while another group of USF students has organized a counter-protest, they're choosing to make their voices heard mainly through social media.

Konstantin Ravvin, administrator for the Facebook group USF Students for a Gun Free Campus, says some members will likely be at the Bull Market, but it won't be an organized effort.

"We feel that the shock value of our opponent's protests, in particular the distressing and somewhat confounding sight of empty gun holsters in an academic setting, does not warrant an equally bellicose response, but rather an appeal to the student body by way of petitioning the student government to pass a resolution that would ceremonially deem USF a gun-free campus, in accordance with Florida law."

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.